Quaden Bayles given a hero's welcome at the footy
Earlier this week, nine-year-old Quaden Bayles was threatening to take his own life, his mother's heartbreaking video sending a shockwave through social media platforms.
However, the NRL community rallied together to help young Quaden, and the nine-year-old led the Indigenous All Stars team onto Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast.
After giving every member of the Maori All Stars team a high five as they exited the change rooms, Quaden lead his sporting heroes onto the field, holding hands with captain Joel Thompson.
He also carried with him the match ball, donning the team jersey and a set of headphones to dampen the crowd's roar.
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NRL superstar Latrell Mitchell gave Quaden a quick hug before joining his teammates for the moment's silence.
The referee even gave Quaden the chance to get proceedings underway, waiting for the youngster to give a thumbs up from the sideline before blowing the whistle.
Indigenous All Stars second rower Wade Graham spoke about Quaden during the warm-ups before kick off.
"It was pretty confronting and awful that video that went around," Graham told Channel 9 reporter and NRL legend Johnathan Thurston.
"Hopefully the little fella's doing a bit better.
"It's really exciting for him … hopefully the stadium will be full by the time we get back out here."
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Mitchell and the Indigenous All Stars extended an invitation to the bully victim to lead the team onto Cbus Stadium for Saturday night's match.
The indigenous All Stars posted a video message to the nine-year-old that captured Australia's heart, inviting him to walk out with the other players before the annual showdown.
The team, coached by rugby league legend Laurie Daley, reached out to Quaden, who was diagnosed with achondroplasia - the most common form of dwarfism - after seeing the heartbreaking message posted by his mother.
It’s the type of news week to go home, lock your doors & hug your loved ones. But here is an uplifting story. The @NRL Indigenous All Stars have reached out to bullied 9-yr-old Quaden Bayles, inviting him to lead them out at Saturday night’s match at @CbusStadium @9NewsGoldCoast pic.twitter.com/NdAxuqtIuD— Dominique Loudon (@dloudon9) February 20, 2020
Yarraka Bayles, Quaden's mother, posted a video of her distraught son to Facebook earlier this week, which quickly went viral around the world.
The video shows the youngster sitting in the back seat of a car in tears after facing yet another day of bullying at school.
"Give me a knife - I want to kill myself," he cries.
"I just want to die right now."
Messages of support started flooding in from around the world, including Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman, son of the US president Eric Trump and The Walking Dead actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Much Love Quaden we are all behind ya my man - much love 💗💗💗— Wendell Sailor (@RealBigDell) February 20, 2020
UK TV host Piers Morgan and American comedian Brad Williams started a GoFundMe page for Quaden to send the bullying victim to Disneyland. As of Saturday afternoon, the page had raised over AU$650,000.
On Friday, Ms Bayles told reporters Quaden had admitted the outpouring of support saw yesterday "go from the worst day of his life to the best day of his life".
"We've always had amazing community support, especially from the footy boys - they're all his uncles, related to most of them - so they've always been there but no where near the amount of support," she said.
"We could never have dreamt in our wildest dreams that it would have gone worldwide and created such a media frenzy. Just being contacted non-stop, people turning up at our house and contacting every single person, it's far exceeded anything we could have imagined."
Speaking on Channel 9's The Today Show, Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley spoke about the decision to invite Quaden to lead his side onto the field.
"It was heartbreaking seeing that video and I think we were all affected by it," Daley said on Saturday morning.
"A couple of the guys in the team actually know Quaden and his family, and when we saw it we decided that we needed to do something.
"We needed to stand up and make a statement and show that Quaden's got plenty of support.
"So we reached out to him and we want to make him feel a part of our team and for him to be able to spend some time with his heroes and get the opportunity to walk out with the team will be pretty special for him."
Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston spoke to Nova about the situation on Friday morning, calling the viral video "heartbreaking".
"It doesn't matter if you have children or not, to see these images is heartbreaking," Thurston told Nova 96.9 Fitzy & Wippa.
"I commend the mother for filming this and raising awareness of what bulling does. We had Dolly from the NT a couple of years ago who committed suicide and now we've got a nine year old who's talking about the same thing.
"I think parents need to step up and start educating their kids on the effects of bullying."