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Real Life

EXCLUSIVE: Inspiring soccer star Rhali Dobson has retired from professional sport to care for her fiancé fighting cancer

The Matildas star chats to Woman's Day about her brave next move with her husband-to-be.

By Brigid Auchettl
Rhali Dobson cried tears of joy when her final match as a professional soccer player ended with an emotional marriage proposal from her partner.
Running from the field to celebrate with her Melbourne City teammates and family, 
the 28-year-old was stunned when Matt Stonham suddenly dropped to one knee and popped the question pitch-side.
"I was in absolute shock," Rhali tells Woman's Day from her home in Maitland, NSW.
"I don't think I actually said 'yes' through the sobbing."
Just weeks before, the former Matildas player had made the decision to retire to support Matt, 35, as he battles brain cancer for a second time.
The couple are positive about their future (Woman's Day)
And while she admits she'll miss the "magical feeling" of playing with her teammates, for Rhali there's no other choice.
"It was a lot earlier retirement than I had planned, but Matt means everything to me," she says, wiping away tears.
"He's an absolute hero in my eyes and I need to be by his side."In February, the couple were heartbroken to discover Matt's cancer had returned after a check-up with his oncologist 
at Newcastle Private Hospital revealed grade two cancer cells.
Former soccer player-now-coach Matt had an operation to remove the cancerous cells but tests then showed a grade three brain tumour.
Matt planned the proposal down to a tee (Getty)
"That was very, very hard to process," admits Matt, whose first bout with brain cancer began in 2015 after he suffered a seizure during a match and had to undergo surgery.
"But it's not all doom and gloom. Having Rhali by my side gives me the confidence to keep going."
The couple first laid eyes on each other eight years ago when Rhali refereed one of Matt's matches.
Chatting over beers after the game Matt recalls it was Rhali's confidence, bubbly personality and "stunning" looks that caught his eye. A few months later they started dating.
"She's always up for a laugh and that drew me to her," he says.
Rhali couldn't be happier with her dream ring! (Woman's Day)
Still shell-shocked by the fairytale proposal, Rhali admits she'd almost given up on getting engaged.
She asked Matt to marry her twice in the weeks leading up to her final game, only for him to laugh it off!
"I'd basically almost given up on the idea of us getting married," she laughs, showing off her stunning diamond ring from Newcastle's Whitakers Jewellers.
Rhali had no idea Matt was hatching his own plan to pop the question.
After asking her parents for their blessing, he organised a photographer to capture the moment and picked out a "token" ring so they could choose the ring of her dreams together at a later date.
Matt after surgery (Supplied)
"I was more nervous asking her parents for permission 
but once they said yes my nerves went away," says Matt, who was thrilled when Rhali returned an enthusiastic 
nod to his "what do you reckon?" proposal.
For Matt, there was no question that Rhali was the woman for him, especially 
as she'd immediately decided to retire after learning his cancer had returned.
"When someone gives up something they love doing just to help you recover, you go, 'I can't be without this person,'" Matt says.
For Rhali, it was an easy decision.
"I can always play 
the sport in some capacity, 
even if it's just kicking the ball in the backyard, but I need to make sure I get him through this," she says.
The couple can't wait to plan a big wedding (Woman's Day)
With celebrations on hold for now while Matt undergoes seven weeks of radiotherapy followed by a year of chemotherapy, 
the engaged pair hope to throw a big party with family and friends before tying the knot in 2022. And, doctors have said Matt's prognosis is good.
"It's probably going to end up being quite a large celebration after everything we've been through and people who have been there for us," says Rhali.
"We might skip the sickness and in health in our wedding vows," she adds with a laugh. "We've proven that already!"
As for starting a family, Rhali, the eldest of five sisters, reveals it's only a matter of time.
"Matt is so great with kids. 
I can totally see him becoming a dad," she says. "I can't wait 
for our next adventure."
Rhali will be walking 150km in June to raise money for brain cancer research. To donate please visit challenge.markhughesfoundation.com.au/page/RhaliDobson

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