Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Matt Bowen and Sam Thaiday have combined forces to bring together almost all of the NRL players of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage next month at the inaugural NRL Indigenous Players Camp on the Sunshine Coast.
The leadership and cultural awareness camp will be held on the eve of the 2013 Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars week of celebrations (Friday-Saturday, February 1-2) and will involve more than 40 Indigenous players in the NRL.
Members of the Indigenous All Stars team, named this week, will attend before going into a week-long camp for the fourth annual clash in Brisbane (Saturday, February 9).
Players will take part in sessions on culture, traditional language and dance, traditional hunting skills, along with discussions and sessions about current challenges facing Indigenous people in Australia.
The camp program has been developed by NRL Indigenous Players Welfare and Education Program Manager, Dean Widders, in conjunction with the Indigenous Players Leadership Group, with the key focus on enabling players to develop a stronger connection with their Indigenous heritage, culture and history. Presenters include ARL Commissioner Dr Chris Sarra, who heads Brisbane’s Stronger Smarter Institute, which is committed to ‘stronger smarter’ future for Indigenous students across Australia.
The Leadership Group, pioneered by former NRL star and All Stars founder Preston Campbell with the support of the NRL Welfare and Education Department, includes Campbell, Thurston, Inglis, Merritt, Bowen and Thaiday.
“This camp will provide the opportunity for players to gain the skills and knowledge to help them in their football careers and club environments as well as help them to develop the tools to work with the next generation of players and their local community,” Widders said.
“It will hopefully provide a forum for our Indigenous players to work through the challenges that they face within Rugby League as well as help identify ways they can contribute to building and strengthening existing NRL club culture and systems.
“We have young players coming through the NRL System and it is vital to ensure that they not only have a strong connection with their culture and heritage, but that we work together as a group to provide guidance and education as they make their way through their careers.”
Thurston said: “Connecting with my culture and heritage has had a big impact on my life on and off the field, so I am really excited to see this camp get off the ground.
“I know it will make a difference to the players who attend when they return to their clubs, community and family and to the young Indigenous players coming through our ranks who look up to us as role models.”
Indigenous players represented 35 per cent of the roster for the Kangaroos and 21 per cent of players at the 2012 State of Origin Series. A further 8 per cent of the National Under 20s players are Indigenous Australians.
At the elite level of the game, 12 per cent of NRL players are Indigenous and across Australia, almost 6 per cent of all registered Rugby League players are Indigenous.