“My son was like… ‘My mummy loves you’…and I was just thinking, oh my god, how embarrassing.”
But Charlene Vaughan was blown away by the warm welcome and humility of her lifelong footy hero, Anthony Minichello.
Affectionately known as ‘The Count’ due to his supposed resemblance to the Sesame Street character, Minichello retired from the NRL in 2014 having set records for most games and most tries in the history of Sydney Roosters.
He was at The Cube last week holding a free MiniFit kids’ fitness clinic program providing fun-filled activities for boys and girls aged 5-12.
More than 150 kids were involved — including Ashton, 6, and Isaac, 8 — but it was their mum, Charleen, who was the biggest fan on the scene.
She brought along a 2002 Roosters Jersey to get signed, with the Catholic Club’s Marketing Manager Graeme Derrig taking a snap.
Charleen is a self-described “rugby league tragic”, is captain of her Narellan Jets team, and helps promote women in NRL.
“As a kid growing up in Campbelltown, I used to take the newspaper cut-outs of Anthony and stick them up on my bedroom wall,” Charlene told us. “So when I posted [on social media] this photo of myself with him, all my cousins (who don’t even like rugby league) said the only reason they knew who this man was, was because of me!
“Yes, I’m that bad,” She laughed. “As you can tell from the photo I’m about to cry.”
When Charlene was 12 or 13 her father’s air-conditioning business was a Wests Tigers sponsor, so she often attended local games — but it wasn’t the home team she cheered for when the Roosters arrived to play.
“For me it was Anthony Minichello, and also Craig Wing, in full flight. I loved Craig Wing because he came from a Filipino background like me, but also Anthony who came from Casula. With him, it was the whole package I admired: the way he spoke, the way he led by example, you could really tell that he mentored and cared. Setting the standard, being behind everyone, making sure the defensive line was set, and communicating well, the things I now try to bring to my own game.”
So, what did Charlene say to The Count when they met?
“I just told him what an absolute fan I was, and the reason I drove my kids here to the Catholic Club was because of him, and how I wanted to be there more than they did. He just laughed and told me ‘Whatever gets them out of the house’. He is so humble. He was also brilliant with the kids, and they loved running about with him.”
While Minichiello’s days on the field may be over, his passion for fitness has grown since leaving the game, starting MiniFit — a program that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children.
The MiniFit sessions were funded by Campbelltown Catholic Club as part of its support for sport and the local community.