NRL celebrates Harmony Day

There are 4.5 million people living in Sydney, and almost half of them live out in Sydney's west. 

So when Belmore legend Hazem El Masri says that one third of that corridor heading towards the foot of the mountains have migrated into Australia – and that "half the world's nations are represented" among them – then you can see why it's important for everyone to start speaking the same language. 

And what better way than for that language to be rugby league? 

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The NRL celebrated Harmony Day on Friday, holding a festival for over 500 students at Merrylands Oval, home of the Merrylands Rams. 

NRL Community ambassadors Nathan Merritt, Joe Galuvao, Nathan Hindmarsh and El Masri joined a host of dignitaries in recognising the game's relationship with the Australian Human Rights Commission of over 10 years.  

Hindmarsh, who has lived in western Sydney since moving to Parramatta in the early 90s, said he has seen a steady increase in diversity among those picking up the Steeden. 

More importantly, he says, there's been no decrease in those playing the game either. 

"I haven't seen it change too much to be honest. I think league's still predominant in western Sydney. We just have a lot of different cultures playing the game now," he told NRL.com. 

"I think I've seen that more of a difference ... there is a bigger Polynesian influence in western Sydney now. And then on to other backgrounds that are starting to take up playing the game, like the Lebanese, and the Maltese. I've seen it change in that way. 

"Particularly someone for me coming from the Southern Highlands, coming to Sydney, I've seen a massive change there for sure."

 It is third straight year that the NRL has celebrated cultural diversity, an annual party that Galuvao says pays tribute to the hard work they've done with their League in Harmony program. 

"It's all the things the NRL hold dear in terms of the values of our organisation, but also a part of our program in League in Harmony. It's about kids we've done the program with the past couple of years, and celebrating what we've done," he said. 

"Working in this program, you see how communities vary. Like Blacktown, they have a high demographic of African communities now. And a lot of those guys are playing rugby league. There's an African United team now out at Blacktown PCYC. We work closely with them. 

"And now they've got a few guys in the juniors system at the Tigers and Bulldogs now. The benefit for rugby league is that not only do we build a message of inclusiveness, that our game is for everyone, but also there's a benefit in terms of development of players.

"It's an inspirational message, because they become fans of our game too. Those are things you can't measure."

Said Hindmarsh: "I definitely never thought I'd see that. The great thing about rugby league is that anyone can play it. We don't discriminate. It's just a game that hopefully we'll get more people playing, and understand that it's not just for big, burly boofheads like me. It's for anyone."

Schools attending the NRL Community Harmony Day: East Hills Boys High School, Holroyd High School, Canterbury Boys High School, Evans High School, Cabramatta Intensive English Centre, Chifley College Mt Druitt, Australian Islamic College School, Condell Park High School, Granville Boys High School, Youth Off The Streets, Sir Joseph Banks, Arthur Phillip High School, Merrylands Public School, Eaglevale High School, South Strathfield Public. 

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