Every time brothers Dennis and Paul Ritchie step onto the rugby league field for the Macleay Valley Mustangs, they feel closer to their younger brother William Smith-Ritchie.
Before leaving the footy sheds captain-coach of first grade Dennis looks at his team’s jersey, which has an Indigenous painting on it designed by William, and speaks to his brother who passed away in October last year.
“It helps with the healing process and with my footy, I speak to him, ask him for help and I can feel his presence,” Dennis said.
“All the boys know how much the jersey means to me and it all means a lot to them too.”
William never represented the Mustangs, playing basketball instead, but he had plenty of friends and family connections with the club.
Reserve grade captain Paul has a similar experience when wearing the jersey.
“Paul is the same, we both miss our brother but wearing the jersey gives us back a bit of a bond,” Ritchie said.
William completed an Indigenous painting for his niece who used it to design a dress which was displayed at a modelling show in Sydney.
It was William’s last painting before his death.
Dennis, who has played for the Mustangs since 2006, requested at the Mustangs AGM for the 2017 jersey to have his brothers design on it and everyone was on board.
Dennis was involved in the Mustangs’ first grade premiership winning sides in 2012 and 2014 but said being victorious this year would be special.
“It would mean the world to me, I would probably get really emotional and it would be something I could always look back on and know that I won a grand final in a jersey designed by my late brother,” Ritchie said.
“It would give us another connection.”
Dennis is halfway through his first season as coach of the Mustangs first grade team.
The side cemented its spot in second position on the competition ladder with a 30-26 victory over the third placed Taree City Bulls on Saturday.
The Mustangs and Bulls were locked at 26-26 with three minutes remaining in the match but Dennis broke the deadlock, scoring after a chip and chase from Anthony Cowan.