21 June 2022

The phone call that got the NRL wearing beanies for brain cancer

| Glenn Pallister
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Matt Callander and Glenn Pallister at a gala event with wine

A conversation between Matt Callander and Glenn Pallister planted the seed that grew into the NRL’s Beanie Day. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

Back in the summer of 2016/17 I got a phone call that would plant the seed that grew into the wildly popular and incredibly important Beanie for Brain Cancer round in the NRL.

I was executive producer of The Footy Show (NRL) at the time and was in my wife’s hometown of Wagga visiting friends when my phone rang.

It was my good mate and former Footy Show colleague Matt Callander, who was at that time the boss of the NRL coverage at Channel 9.

Matt had been diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 4 glioblastoma multi-form (GBM) brain tumour the week after attending my 50th birthday celebration.

He used to joke with people “don’t go to one of Pallister’s parties… you’ll end up with brain Cancer”.

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It was just a few days before Christmas 2016, seven months since his diagnosis and Matt had an idea.

“We have to do something to make a difference brother… I’m thinking beanies and I want to see every NRL player walk onto the field wearing them,” he said.

And there it was, I had a seed that just needed watering and tending for it to grow into the tallest tree in the forest.

“What about a beanie round? Full support from all the players’ fans buying beanies…” we were away.

Now we just had to make it happen.

Photo of a photo of Matt Callander and Glenn Pallister

Matt Callander and Glenn Pallister repping their Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) beanies. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

Matt got weaker and more tired as the treatments threw their ugly side effects at him, but he still lit up the room during our meetings in my office at Channel 9 and I could see it was the therapy he needed.

We reached out to former Newcastle and NSW player Mark Hughes, a brain cancer survivor who now had a full-blown foundation raising money for brain cancer research – The Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF).

Matt was too unwell to join us on a trip to Newcastle, but we had a power-planning lunch at the Merewether Surf House, on a sizzling hot summer’s day.

There we were, my wife Kaz and I, joined by Newcastle Rugby League royalty Paul “The Chief” Harragon and his wife Pam, Danny Buderus and Mark Hughes and both their wives Kris and Kiz who were the hands-on heroes behind the scenes of the MHF.

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They were selling beanies already; there was a common cause and an unwavering passion for getting this done.

Then came time to talk numbers. The girls asked me how many beanies they would have to order.

“How many have you got planned for your MHF beanie day?” I asked.

“About 10,000,” they replied.

“Times it by 10… order 100,000 – we’ll sell ’em all,” I boldly declared.

They dead set looked at me like I had two heads, but Big Chief was a close mate and backed me.

“Pallo knows what he’s talking about,” he said.

Well, if the spiritual guru of Newcastle says so – it must be true. So they ordered 100,000.

We called Matt from the bar and the excitement was palpable.

Danny Buderus and Glenn Pallister at a restaurant

Danny Buderus and Glenn Pallister at the brainstorming lunch in Newcastle in 2017. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

Mark said to Ray Hadley in an interview, “I can dream big, but Glenny Pallister dreams really big!”.

It was time to get the NRL onboard.

Matt was starting to show the signs of his battle a little more now, but we met in the Chanel 9 boardroom in 2017 to pitch his dream.

NRL boss Todd Greenberg got it. It was an instant yes. We were on.

The next few months saw incredible work from the team at the MHF and the reaction as word got out was amazing.

The NRL confirmed that all clubs had agreed to wear the beanies on walk out… this was really happening.

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And so, as the Sharks and Cowboys walked onto the field for the first game of Beanie Round that night in the Shire – led by a beanied Johnathan Thurston and Paul Gallen – there was Matt with his family down on the field seeing his dream become a reality.

The inaugural NRL Beanie for Brain Cancer Round raised an astonishing $2.3 million.

Matt succumbed to the disease in October 2017, but not before putting in place one of the most significant rounds on the NRL calendar.

A few years ago I was lying on a beach in Crescent Head with the Big Chief pondering life.

“You know what, Pallo,” he said. “The Kid from Kurrie (Mark) was sent here for a reason. He will find a cure one day. It will happen. I’m sure of it.”

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Matt Callander in a beanie

Matt Callander rocks an MHF Beanie at the inaugural Beanies for Brain Cancer round of the NRL in 2017. Photo: Glenn Pallister.

This year the Wagga Kangaroos will have beanie day on 18 June at their home game against Brothers. Beanies will be on sale and donations collected.

Then on round 10 over 2 and 3 July the entire Group 9 will have every home game on their Beanie Round.

Buy a beanie for brain cancer on that round and you’ll get free entry to the Wagga Races on Monday 4 July; thanks kindly to MTC CEO Jason Ferrario who sadly lost his brother and local footy legend Rick Keast more than 10 years ago.

Thank you, Riverina, for embracing Matt’s dream and Marks’ vision. And for 25 bucks grab yourself a beanie and wear it with pride to show you have played your part in helping to find a cure for this horrible disease. Because as Chief said, “It will happen”.

And remember, if the Chief said it, it must be true.

Glenn Pallister is a highly experienced media producer with more than 35 years in television and entertainment including on Wide World of Sports. He was Executive Producer of The NRL Footy Show for fifteen years and in 2004 he was appointed Nine’s Head of Entertainment. Glenn continues to work in television sports production from his new home in Wagga where he and his wife Karen run Le Brooks Café in the Australian Arcade.

Original Article published by Glenn Pallister on Region Riverina.

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