Raiders utility Joel Thompson has come a long way from the isolation of bush football to carve a successful NRL career in the national capital – but victory by the Indigenous team in the inaugural All Stars clash in 2010 remains his rugby league benchmark.
The 23-year-old, who grew up in far-western New South Wales, said he’s counting the days until this year’s game at Skilled Park on February 4.
“It’s awesome being around such quality players, learning from them and also going up there with all my family and friends… it should be good,” Thompson told NRL.com.
“When we go up there it’s such a good vibe, everyone I talk to is looking forward to it. Hopefully we get a sell-out crowd again.”
The Indigenous All Stars’ other popular ‘JT’ revealed he had a fragmented rugby league upbringing.
“My family is from Ivanhoe… out near Wilcannia, Broken Hill. It’s pretty remote. My mum’s Aboriginal and I grew up with my Aboriginal family out there,” he said.
“I started playing when I was pretty young, like eight, but I moved around a fair bit so there’s a lot of years I didn’t play and then there was the years I did play, so I didn’t consistently play rugby league until I was about 16.”
Thompson said that although league was a popular sport in Ivanhoe, he was among the Indigenous minority to leave their mark on the game.
“Yeah, it’s a big sport but not really many Aboriginal players are from out there… our closest town was like Griffith. No, there’s not many coming from that way,” he said.
The centre/second-rower nominated the week leading up to the All Stars clash as every bit as satisfying as the game itself.
“I like mixing with the fans when we do our jumper presentation [at the All Stars Festival] – it’s good to see so many people that love it and the kids and stuff,” he said.
“All the smiles and everything, seeing their favourite players like JT and other players and Princey… it’s all pretty good.”
Also, he’s looking forward to reuniting with Indigenous team halfback Chris Sandow, who he hasn’t played alongside since his teenage years.
And he loves the team’s new jersey design – although he suspects an ulterior motive.
“I love them actually… the black look – I don’t know if they’re trying to make big Georgie Rose look a bit slimmer or what’s going on there, but I like them. It’s a cool design!”