While some NRL players might balk at being considered role models for youth, South Sydney Indigenous All Stars pair Nathan Merritt and Nathan Peats say they are happy to put up their hands and lead the way.
Fleet-footed flyer Merritt, who finished 2011 as the equal-leading NRL tryscorer, says the players’ interaction with Indigenous youth in the lead-up to the All Stars game is an “eye-opener” for the kids.
And he is aware that his status as a leading NRL player is something that attracts the game’s young players.
“You know, it’s an eye-opener for them, and for them to listen to us,” he told NRL.com. “We’re people that they like to look up to because we’re NRL players, so they take a lot out of the weekend and they benefit a lot from what we say… that’s why we just try and push positive messages.”
Merritt said All Stars week was “all about the kids”.
“Getting together and being around each other for the whole week and getting out there to the kids and teaching them about educational stuff and healthy living… it’s a great experience,” he said.
Indigenous All Stars rookie Peats said he was particularly looking forward to giving something back to rugby league’s grassroots, having been told about the huge build-up to the All Stars clash by two-game ‘veteran’ Merritt.
“[It’s my] first time being chosen, so I’m definitely privileged to be here… ‘Merro’ said it’s a good week so I’m looking forward to it,” Peats said.
“You get to go out and see the kids and enjoy the community up there… I’m looking forward to playing with the kids, just playing a bit of footy and mucking around.”
The two Nathans are excited about reuniting with former Rabbitohs halfback Chris Sandow as well as siding with team-mate Greg Inglis who will make his Indigenous All Stars debut.
“Playing alongside Chrissy like I did last year and getting to play with ‘GI’ again will be a great honour,” Peats said.
The 21-year-old utility said the introduction of the new ‘power-play’ rule would test both sides’ defences to their limits.
“It’s a good way for the NRL to try out the new rules,” he said. “The ‘power-play’ sounds pretty tough if you’re defending with 11 players, but it’s interesting… I’m looking forward to it.
“Hopefully you know we can get a full crowd this year… and it will be a good spectacle for the fans.”
Meanwhile, Merritt said he wasn’t worried about the Indigenous All Stars’ perceived lack of depth in the forwards.
“I think we’ll be fine… we’ve got ‘Peatsy’ who can play in the forwards as well – and big Georgie Rose, he can play 80 minutes if he wants to!” he said.
“We’re going to go out there and just play with a lot of passion and pride, so it doesn’t bother us if we’re small or big. We’re just going to go out there and play to our best.”