THIS is the most uplifting and inspirational story of the festive season. How a rugby league team, the Manly Sea Eagles, put a smile on the face of a broken-hearted 11-year-old who will be facing his first Christmas without his mum.
Heartwarming ... Clayton Bailey spends the day with the Sea Eagles. Picture: Mark Evans Source: The Daily Telegraph
Great moment ... young Clayton Bailey with Brett Stewart. Picture: Mark Evans Source: The Daily Telegraph
Clayton Bailey will wake on Saturday week knowing there won't be a gift under the tree from mum Laura.
In May this year, Laura lost a short battle with cancer, leaving a freckle-faced Clayton dreading Christmas.
He turned to rugby league for help and for a few hours at Narrabeen yesterday his sad world was a whole lot brighter.
It may not have come from his mother but Clayton received the best Christmas present of all - a day with his Sea Eagles heroes.
When Clayton arrived at Manly, his smile lit up his face. There was Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, Steve Matai, Jamie Lyon, Brent Kite.
Clayton has always been a fanatical Manly fan, despite the fact his mum supported Canterbury and the family moved to Tasmania.
"He sometimes wakes up at 4am saying: 'I miss Mum'," father Colin said.
"I put on the 2008 grand final [won famously by Manly 40-0] and he loves it.
"He replays it and replays it. He loves Brett Stewart.
"It's been hard for him but this has been a magical day. He is over the moon."
A shy Clayton said: "This is my best Christmas gift. Today has been heaps exciting. I miss my mum though."
Colin and Laura lived in Sydney before starting a new life in Tasmania. Colin, Clayton and eldest son Daniel will now return to NSW and live on the Central Coast.
Clayton has been promised he can lead out Manly against Wests Tigers next season at Bluetongue Stadium.
"Personal loss is always sad, particularly at that age," Manly coach Des Hasler said.
"I just hope we put a smile on Clayton's face. I know his mum would be looking down and be proud of him."
Sea Eagles prop George Rose knows the pain Clayton is experiencing.
"These are tough times for him," Rose said. "I lost my dad when I was nine, so I know he will be sad.
"Just bringing him here will hopefully make his Christmas that little bit happier. Hopefully it's a good Christmas gift for him."
He may be tough and relentless on the field but Matai showed a softer side.
"It will be a sad time for young Clayton not having his mother around at Christmas," Matai said.
"I think the boys today have put a smile on his face.
"I think everyone has made him happy."
They sure did.