Blues stars provide boost to bushfire victims
Jamie Zaia was watching the back half of his house burn when, inexplicably, teenage son Taigan went and disappeared inside it.
"Straight in our front door," recounts the teachers' aide from the little bush town of Willawarrin, just west of Kempsey.
"The house was already alight and, within 15 minutes, burned to the ground. But Taigan, he just bolted … inside while I stood there screaming at him."
Seated now with The Daily Telegraph at a bench inside Willawarrin primary school - which along with a pub and shop completes this community of roughly 200 people - Zaia is recalling the day a few weeks back when bushfires took his home and everything this 39-year-old had worked a lifetime to earn.
"Didn't think I needed it," the father-of-three said.
Which goes some way to explaining why Brad Fittler - when our interview is over and he thinks no one is watching - will go and pop a small white envelope in the top of Zaia's shirt pocket.
The NSW Origin coach also gifted Zaia shirts, jackets and hats from the outfit he has now led to consecutive series titles.
Other NRL stars like James Tedesco, Andrew Johns, Boyd Cordner, Danny Buderus and Cam Murray have spent the past couple of days visiting the towns worst hit by the blazes, conducting clinics and gifting hampers.
"At times like this people are so generous," Zaia said.
And as for son Taigan?
"He ran back inside to get our camera," Zaia proudly said.
"He got outside and said 'Dad, the fire isn't taking our memories too'."