MARK Hughes jokes that his champion Knights teammate Andrew Johns only has a “cute little grandstand” named in his honour.
This week Hughes will enjoy bragging rights at the expense of the eighth Immortal when their former home ground bears his trademark, after McDonald Jones Stadium is temporarily known as Beanies For Brain Cancer Stadium for Sunday’s clash with Cronulla.
Launched in 2016, Beanies For Brain Cancer round has rapidly captured the imagination of the rugby league fraternity and Hughes is hopeful the third annual instalment will attract similarly generous backing.
“It was amazing last year,” he said. “We had so many orders for beanies we couldn’t keep up. This year we’ve got a lot more beanies. We’re selling them for $20 each through Ritchie’s IGA [shops] and also the stadium on Sunday. We raised $1.75 million last year, which was incredible, and it would be nice to think we can do even better than that this year.”
The former two-time grand final winner and NSW Origin representative has been humbled by the resounding community support he has received since establishing the Mark Hughes Foundation, shortly after he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour in 2013.
In little more than four years, the foundation has raised almost $5 million towards brain cancer research and patient care.
“As there is no cure for brain cancer, raising money to fund research is critical,” Hughes said. “It kills more children than any other disease, and adults under 40 than any other cancer, and these statistics need to change.”
As well as stadium sponsor McDonald Jones Homes agreeing to relinquish naming rights for the week, the Knights will wear a specially commissioned jersey.
“I can’t believe that the team I love so much will be running out with the Mark Hughes Foundation logo on their jerseys,” he said.
“The Knights and McDonald Jones Homes have come together to make sure it’s going to be a special day.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing the stadium on Sunday full of people wearing their beanies.”
Knights chief executive Phil Gardner said: “The Knights are very proud to be in partnership with MHF and we urge people to dig deep on Sunday to raise as much money as possible.”
Since his surgery, Hughes has scans every four months and said he was in good health.
“I’m really lucky, and grateful, to be able to combine my two passions, working for the foundation and also as an ambassador for the Knights,” he said.