They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that has certainly been the case for Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League player Gareth Jones.
The 19-year-old Leigh Centurions player was captured celebrating a try that he scored at Widnes Vikings on Good Friday, and the memorable image has made its way around the world.
Photographer Ste Jones, who took the stunning photograph, reported that it has been viewed over 300,000 times on Twitter alone, while Gareth’s mum Debbie has read messages from Canada and America via a huge reaction on Facebook groups.
Debbie says the snapshot perfectly summed up Gareth’s experience so far in the Community Integrated Care LDSL, after he overcame some early nerves to relish the prospect of playing in front of almost 4,000 people at half-time of the Widnes-Leigh Championship match.
Debbie explained: "Prior to the game Gareth was a bit anxious because he hadn't played in front of a crowd before, so we FaceTimed his brother Robert and said we'd take some pictures of him playing rugby to send him.
"That changed things for Gareth, his coaches were brilliant with him, and once he scored a try he was in his element, you could see his confidence growing. He absolutely loves going to training on a Monday night, he’s made lots of new friends and the team at Leigh Centurions are great, they really support one another.
"He's met the Leigh players a few times now and they know who he is, and it's really great to see the club and the community getting behind this. Gareth is loving his rugby and he loved the adulation of the crowd cheering him on.
"This has been a life-changing opportunity for Gareth and I’m sure he'll continue to grow in confidence. It's offering him the same opportunity in life that any young person of the same age has, and gives him something to look forward to and a real sense of worth.
"It's been amazing and really brings people together, and we've been completely blown away by the impact that photograph has had."
Due to a combination of Covid restrictions and illnesses, Gareth was the only attendee when Leigh Centurions LDRL coach Scott Burns held his first training session at the club late last year, giving him a unique place in the team's history.
Burns said: "We had two coaches and three first team players there, Gareth had a massive smile on his face from start to finish, and ended up giving everyone nicknames. When I looked at the side of the pitch and saw his mum's face too you can see the impact this can have on families.
"That photograph encapsulated Gareth's character and what playing in the Community Integrated Care Super League means to everybody in the sport. He's now part of a team and a Leigh Centurions player."
John Hughes, the Director of Partnerships and Communities at Community Integrated Care, says that the photograph captured the essence of the LDSL. Hughes said: "The Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League is an incredible platform for showcasing the talents of people who have learning disabilities and autism, and in tackling prejudice.
"Every person that has seen and shared Gareth's photograph will have been uplifted by his talents and passion for the sport that he loves. We'd like to congratulate Gareth on living his dreams, by scoring for the team that he loves. Special thanks go to Ste Jones, whose wonderful image will inspire many more people to follow in Gareth's footsteps."
The Learning Disability Super League is world-first programme led by the national social care charity Community Integrated Care with the Rugby Football League and Super League.
This specially-adapted and non-competitive sport enables people who have learning disabilities and autism to play for the clubs that they love, emulating their Rugby League heroes.
With the charity providing specialist training and development to every club, the project has grown to see more than 250 people playing the sport weekly.