Artie would be proud, says Sailor
He blazed the trail for Indigenous athletes to become leaders in the sporting world and former Test winger Wendell Sailor believes Arthur Beetson would be proud of the development of both Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis into inspirational figures.
On Monday Thurston was named to captain the Indigenous All Stars team against the NRL All Stars on February 13 and 24 hours later Inglis was handed the captaincy of the defending premier South Sydney Rabbitohs in the latest testament to his growing stature in the game.
Both men are members of the NRL Indigenous Leadership group but it is their actions both on and off the field that are impacting on the next generation of Indigenous youth, just as Beetson did in becoming the first Indigenous person to captain an Australian sporting team of any kind.
Sailor said at the announcement of the All Stars teams that Beetson and Meninga were both influential role models and that Thurston and Inglis deserve to share their company.
"I think they're up there already as role models. They're great players but they put a lot of time and effort in off the field as well," Sailor said.
"Those two in general will be right up there and be remembered not just as great rugby league players but great Indigenous players too.
"Whenever you see the kids wearing those jerseys and talking about them, it makes you so proud. This is what guys like Artie and that wanted and we're seeing it through the programs that are happening."
Speaking exclusively with NRL.com, Thurston revealed that it wasn't until four or five years ago that he fully appreciated his status in the game and his influence in the community and said he has seen a similar development in Inglis.
Inglis was just 19 years of age when he first played alongside Thurston for Queensland in 2006 and the Cowboys co-captain said the pair discuss the importance of the example that they set,
"We do understand the position that we're in and what a privilege it is to play in the NRL," Thurston said. "We know the role that we play within the community and we try to do our best there to make a difference.
"He was a fairly shy kid coming through and his achievements on the field speak for themselves but I've really seen him grow as a leader and into the man he is today.
"He commands respect and I think he's a very likeable lad and all the boys get along well with him but they also respond to him as well when he talks."
Entering his eleventh season with the Cowboys in 2015, Thurston was arrested for minor offences in both 2008 and 2010 and said that it was the impact on his family that led to him accepting the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of high profile players.
"As a professional footballer we're under the microscope 24/7 and I've probably learnt that the hard way, understanding my role within the community," Thurston said.
"It's a role I'm a lot more comfortable with now and I understand the impact not only myself but these players have throughout their communities at their clubs.
"When I first came to Townsville I came little known so it took a while I suppose to grow into it and learn how to handle it as well and I think the last four or five years I've been able to understand my role within the community and I'm a lot more comfortable in that role now."