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NRL stars are urging all Australians to tackle Indigenous health inequality in a special ‘Close the Gap’ Round of the Telstra Premiership.

Indigenous-inspired jerseys, mentoring, leadership, cultural awareness sessions and Indigenous performances are among the NRL Club initiatives in the Close the Gap Round that highlights Indigenous heritage and which players hope will inspire Rugby League fans to pledge to support reducing the life expectancy gap of more than a decade between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis are among the NRL stars urging fans to sign the pledge to ‘close the gap’.

Rugby League was the first sporting code in Australia to join the Close the Gap campaign with an inaugural Close the Gap Round in 2009 and this year’s game-wide activities will again highlight the importance of working to improve Indigenous health, life expectancy and education and employment opportunities.

“The All Stars and health and education programs we have across the game have helped change people’s lives but the life expectancy gap is one issue we have to keep tackling,” Cowboys and Indigenous All Stars captain Johnathan Thurston said.

Australian, Maroons and Melbourne captain Cameron Smith said: “As a parent, it’s heart-breaking to know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have more than double the chance of dying before the age of one,” Smith said.

“By signing the pledge, all Rugby League fans can show their support for reducing the life expectancy gap.”

Greg Inglis, the Rabbitohs’ Close the Gap ambassador, added: “There’s no reason why all Australians can’t enjoy health equality.

“When you go to support your team at the footy this round, show your support for closing the gap and sign the pledge.”

To sign the pledge, log on to

Since its launch in 2006, 178,000 Australians have pledged to support ‘Close the Gap’, which is supported by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Learn Earn Legend! initiative.

The Close the Gap campaign is calling on the Australian Government to work in real partnership with Indigenous peoples on a comprehensive action plan to close the gap on Indigenous health inequality by 2030. Its aim is to reduce the tragic gap in health statistics, which show:

•    The life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is more than a decade less than for other Australians – and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have more than double the chance of dying before the age of one than other Australian babies.

•    Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Other serious but preventable health problems include lung disease, kidney failure and eye and ear problems.

•    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often have poor access to health care, and their health is also affected by things such as poor housing, lower levels of education, unemployment and discrimination.

As part of the game-wide Close the Gap Round activities:

The Sydney Roosters will host 50 clients from the PCYC and Ted Noffs Indigenous Programs at their game against the Dragons, as well as work with Oxfam volunteers on game day to get fans to ‘sign the pledge’ and feature Indigenous pre-game entertainment.

Storm players will wear specially designed training shirts this week as well as a specially designed jersey for the game against Penrith. Will Chambers has also organised special boots to wear which have been made by a local Indigenous lady in his home town of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. Today players and staff will take part in a cultural awareness session that will include a Welcome to Country, didgeridoo performance, dance performance and a Close the Gap information session. On Wednesday the club has also organised a special clinic for Indigenous kids from the community where, following the session, they will watch the NRL team training and mingle with the players. On Thursday the owners of the land, being the Wurundjeri Land Council, have organised a formal presentation of a Message Stick to present to the club as acknowledgement of the club’s efforts to Close the Gap and work with the Indigenous community as part of their second Reconciliation Action Plan. The club has provided 500 tickets for Indigenous community members to attend the game. Oxfam volunteers will also be involved on game day to encourage fans to sign the pledge and issue badges.

•    A special event will be held at Panthers on the Prowl, where students will unveil an Indigenous artwork they have painted, before eating a healthy lunch with the Panthers squad. Local elders will deliver the Welcome to Country at the Panthers’ home game against the Raiders, with students from Chifley College and Mt Druitt High to perform a traditional Indigenous dance while a smoking ceremony is held on the field. Guests in the Chairman's Lounge will also be given a performance, along with a traditional tools display and workshop. In the Kids Corner, fans will be able to try traditional fare including crocodile and kangaroo. Brad Tighe and Luke Walsh will assist Indigenous program developer Glen Liddiard with the School 2 Work program for Indigenous children in the Penrith area. The club will visit local youth groups to talk about healthy lifestyles and host a skills clinic with kids from local Indigenous teams to form guards of honour for the NRL teams.

•   The Dragons will wear a special Indigenous jersey in Round 24 against the Cowboys designed by local Illawarra artist Jodie Stewart. The artwork is based on the experience of her upbringing as an Indigenous woman in Gerringong, using stories of the traditions and culture of Indigenous people in the Illawarra like tracking, hunting and fishing. More than 200 tickets to that game will be used by Indigenous families, most of the families attending are part of the Dragons Community Jervis Bay Primary School and Wreck Bay cultural programs, and from the Myimbarr After School Learning Program. Jamie Soward will also meet with 20 Indigenous students from Corpus Christi High School at Oak Flats to present the game’s ‘Dream Believe Achieve’ program.

•   The Knights have participated in a number of community events leading up to the Close the Gap Round and, prior to the game, will host students and families from their 100% Knights program for a health education and awareness workshop.  The club is providing more than 300 tickets to the local land councils and game day activities include a Welcome to Country, Close the Gap health promotions and video messages from Indigenous players about the importance of healthy lifestyles and the Close the Gap campaign.

•   Last Saturday the Bulldogs played the Cowboys for the Reconciliation Cup, which was established in 2007 to mark 40 years since the 1967 Referendum, when Australians voted to remove clauses from the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous Australians. The club hosted 70 representatives from the Bulldogs School 2 Work program at the match and had a host of Indigenous pre-game entertainment. Bulldogs players including captain Michael Ennis, Ben Barba, Jono Wright, Joel Romelo, Krisnan Inu, Frank Pritchard, and Greg Eastwood wore hand-painted boots by local Koori artist Daren Dunn and will again don the special footwear this week.

•   Having played the Bulldogs in the Reconciliation Cup last round, the Cowboys will wear a special Indigenous jersey against the Sea Eagles and are hosting a breakfast in the week leading into the Close the Gap Round promoting Indigenous employment opportunities to 150 Industry representatives.

•   The Sea Eagles will wear Indigenous designed jerseys against the Cowboys and will reward students from their Breakfast Club at Yarrabah whose school attendance has improved by bringing them to the match. They will also provide a mentoring camp for eight senior students in Townsville. Steve Matai is wearing specially designed boots with Indigenous and Samoan art on them in celebration of all Indigenous people. These will be auctioned off after the game to raise money for Indigenous programs.

Sharks forward Tyrone Peachey is the club’s Close the Gap ambassador. The club will support Close the Gap as its game-day charity partner against the Warriors, who will also be working with Oxfam on game-day promotions;

•   The Raiders will officially launch their club’s Indigenous leadership program;

Broncos TV will feature interviews with Close the Gap representatives, while officials will wear Close the Gap pins and promote the ‘Sign the Pledge’ initiative to club members in their Member Mail;

•   The Titans will wear Preston Campbell-designed Indigenous jerseys with a group of 45 students from Mornington Island, Doomagee and Cherbourg at the club for the week for education workshops as part of the Titans Achievement Program. Jamal Idris is the club’s Close the Gap ambassador.

•   Greg Inglis is the Rabbitohs’ Close the Gap ambassador with the club to wear specially designed Indigenous jerseys against the Titans. Souths Cares is taking six students involved with the Learn Earn Legend! School to Work Transition Program to the Gold Coast for the game. A reward for the highest achieving students engaged in the program, they will be involved in activities with students who are connected to the Titans Achievement Program;

Wests Tigers will this week promote their ‘Get That Job Day’ at Wests Leagues, leading into their School to Work program launch next Monday and the final of the Koori Cup 7s Grand Final at Campbelltown. The players will also wear specially designed Close the Gap shorts, having formed a partnership with KARI Aboriginal Resources Inc, the match-day sponsors whose logo will feature on the shorts.

Close the Gap co-chairs Mick Gooda and Jody Broun today thanked the NRL, its clubs and players for their on-going support of the campaign.

“Rugby League represents the kind of partnerships essential to closing the life expectancy gap,” Mr Gooda said.

“Every week in the NRL, Indigenous and non-Indigenous players come together successfully to achieve a common goal. This is what we need to close the gap, and the NRL can be proud of its efforts to raise awareness of this critical issue.”

Ms Broun added: “Sport plays a critical role in helping to close the gap, with many examples of lives being turned around through involvement in a local sporting club, with its community focus and health benefits for players.

“The NRL was the first sporting code to support Close the Gap and the standing of the League’s many Aboriginal players is an inspiration to our young mob all around the country.”

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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