One of NRL’s biggest young guns is using a confronting real life documentary that shocked the nation as motivation towards premiership glory.
Samoan-born Penrith Panthers centre Stephen Crichton, 19, has become one of the code’s brightest rising stars since bursting onto the scene to make his NRL debut 13 months ago.
But it’s also been a tough journey for the Dally M rookie of the year contender who’s scored 14 tries so far this season.
When he was two, his parents Sina and Va’a ditched their jobs at an onion factory in Apia and moved their growing family initially to New Zealand and then Australia, where they settled in western Sydney.
Crichton was in year nine when SBS aired Struggle Street, filmed in the Mount Druitt housing commission streets where he grew up.
Stephen Crichton (pictured after the Panthers’ round 15 win against Cronulla) has been the integral part of the Penrith Panthers’ stunning success in 2020
He recalls the deep hurt suffered and being given a hard time by Patrician Brothers Blacktown schoolmates about coming from the area when the documentary dubbed as ‘poverty porn’ by local mayor Stephen Bali aired in 2015.
‘They (SBS) threw us under a bus,’ Crichton told the Daily Telegraph.
‘Obviously living in Mount Druitt can be a struggle. And, yes, bad things do happen. But there’s also a lot of great things. Great families.’
‘And the fact they hid all that … it’s definitely what hurt the most.’
Crichton isn’t the only Panthers star to hail from the area they’re proud to call ‘Mounty.’
Struggle Street shocked the nation when it was aired by SBS. Pictured are documentary stars Peta and Ashley Kennedy with their family outside their Whalan home in western Sydney
Teammates Jerome Luai, Brian To’o, Moses Leota, Tyrone May and Spencer Leniu also grew up in the area and remember how badly their hometown was portrayed on screens across the country.
The confronting two-part series followed a group of Mount Druitt residents, most of whom were jobless, welfare dependent and living tough lives.
Among the characters were Ashley, a disability pensioner with an ice addict son and another with brain damage suffered in a car accident, while Bailee was a homeless teen who was kicked out of home at age 13.
But it was Billie Jo Wilkie who shocked viewers the most, as the young mum was filmed smoking a bong while eight months pregnant.
Five years on, the young Penrith Panthers stars use the documentary as motivation and haven’t lost a game in more than three months.
One of the more shocking scenes aired was Billie Jo Wilkie smoking a bong while pregnant
The Panthers hopes to continue their 13-game winning streak into the NRL finals and claim the club’s third premiership since 1967.
Leading the charge is Crichton, who’s desperate to the dispel the misconceived stereotype that nothing good comes out of Mount Druitt.
The younger brother of Canterbury Bulldogs winger Christian, Crichton recently paid tribute to his parents for leaving Samoa in pursuit of better opportunities for their young family.
He almost never played rugby league because his family couldn’t afford the junior registration fees.
Stephen Crichton (pictured in round nine NRL action for the Panthers) still remembers the deep hurt the SBS documentary caused in the community where he grew up
‘My parents weren’t wealthy as much as they are now when they were in Samoa,’ Crichton told nrl.com.au earlier this month.
‘They didn’t have enough to raise four kids there. And then my little brother and sister came when we were here. Full credit to my Mum and Dad. Every time I talk to them about it, I get emotional.’
His older brother Christian added: ‘We’re grateful for everything we have. We didn’t have much growing up but we had enough; we had our family, each other.’
Crichton still lives his parents and gives most of his NRL cheque to them.
He plans to buy them a house in appreciation for everything he’s done for them.
Stephen Crichton (pictured) has emerged as one of the NRL’s brightest rising talents in 2020