Indigenous players’ leadership group representatives Greg Inglis and George Rose have launched the NRL's sixth Close The Gap Round.
It will feature more than 50 activities across three States to celebrate the game’s links with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
One of the primary goals of the round is to help tackle the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Indigenous Australians can expect to live 10-17 years less than non-Indigenous Australians.
Aboriginal babies are up to three times more likely to die before the age of one than other babies in Australia and Aboriginal people face much higher risks of heart disease, cancer and kidney failure.
Greg Inglis said it was important that Indigenous people were given the education and assistance to increase their life expectancy.
“There is no more important issue than giving Indigenous people the same opportunities as all other Australians,” he said.
“And that means providing the education, nutrition and resources to ensure Indigenous people can live longer lives.”Full list of Close The Gap club/game activities
Among the players at the Close The Gap
launch on Tuesday were Beau Champion, Nathan Merritt, Rhys Wesser, Kirisome Auva'a and Kyle Turner.
The Chair of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council, the Hon. Linda Burney was also in attendance along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Close The Gap Campaign Co-chair, Mr Mick Gooda.
NRL Head of Community, Adam Check, said Indigenous players were a key part of the NRL competition.
“Indigenous players make up nine per cent of the Holden Cup players’ list and 12 per cent of NRL players,” he said.
“That is a remarkable figure but we want to see that increase even further at all levels of our game.
“The fact is rugby league is a game for all people.
“The positive impact the Indigenous community has on the game is something that we respect and value.
“The NRL will continue to showcase the importance of the Indigenous community with key events including the All Stars, the Indigenous players’ camps and working closely with the ARL Indigenous Council.”
As part of the week The NRL will launch a new Reconciliation Action Plan on Friday night prior to the Parramatta Eels v Bulldogs game.
In 2008, Rugby League became the first national sporting code to develop such a plan.
“Rugby League plays an important role in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and our amazing players are both huge inspirations and role models,” Linda Burney said.
“Events and matches featuring Indigenous players are critical in moving towards reconciliation,” Ms Burney said.
Co-Chairs of the Close the Gap Campaign Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker spoke about the national groundswell the campaign has generated.
“The Close the Gap Campaign is a national movement, events like the NRL Close the Gap Round help raise the profile of this campaign for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality,” Kirstie Parker said.
“Rugby League teaches us the value of teamwork and supporting your mates,” Mick Gooda said.
Similarly, we need a team effort by all Australians to help close the life expectancy gap.”
In attendance also from the Rabbitohs was Rhys Wesser, Kirisome Auva'a and Kyle Turner, Beau Champion and Nathan Merritt who are currently undertaking their Certificate IV in Mentoring Diverse Groups run by Across Culture.
Activities across the game will include:
• Teams wearing specially dedicated Close The Gap jerseys;
• On-field cultural celebrations and entertainment;
• Hosting Indigenous community groups;
• Showcasing NRL involvement with Indigenous mentoring and student programs, highlighting the School to Work program;
• Telstra to donate on-field signage so that the Close The Gap logo is shown on the grounds; and
• Opportunity for fans and members to sign the Close The Gap ‘pledge' at the game.