An Indigenous leadership camp has left a lasting impression on a number of Indigenous All Stars players who now feel a closer connection to their cultural identity.
Greg Inglis, Jack Wighton, Joel Thompson, Edrick Lee and Dane Gagai were among a group that took part in a two-day leadership camp held on Stradbroke Island last weekend.
The camp immersed the players into a true Indigenous experience that left each of them re-connected with the culture and the spirit of the people they are representing throughout the week-long celebration that is All Stars week.
Players were left with a greater understanding of Indigenous traditions as well as the history behind Indigenous Australians.
Indigenous All Stars winger Dane Gagai could not hide his pride as he spoke exclusively to NRL.com about the experience.
“To be able to do that and learn about the culture was a great experience,” said Gagai.
“They gave us a cultural welcoming dance and we joined in. I learned so much about the history and culture.
“I left there blown away with some of the stories they told us.
“I enjoyed it a lot – obviously I missed the Nines but I’d already played in that two years in a row. It’s a great tournament but being able to learn about my culture and being immersed in the build up for the game this weekend is what I wanted to focus on.
“I think it’s really important we keep this concept going.”
Players bonded together over the two days and left the camp with a stronger sense of leadership both on and off the field.
The camp signalled the start of a week-long celebration that will culminate on Saturday as over 40,000 people flock to Suncorp Stadium to celebrate the 2016 Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars fixture.
The week itself is about encouraging everyone to recognise Indigenous culture and its history, as well as the enormous impact Indigenous Australians have had on the game of rugby league.
Gagai says the unique learning experience was the perfect way to begin the week as the 25-year-old prepares for his second Indigenous All Stars appearance.
“You learn about the Aboriginal culture and it’s just about wanting to learn and showing interest. It brings people closer together and I loved every minute of it,” said Gagai.
“We had such a huge impact on the footy-mad kids over there. They were able to see some of their heroes and you could just see that they were hoping one day they would be able to put on this Indigenous jersey.
“We were in tents and we were sleeping on the beach and we ate traditional Indigenous meals.
“All the food’s cooked in the ground and we ate that for dinner. It was just a great experience.
“We didn’t talk any rugby league over there. It was just about our culture and just how close everyone is over there.
“It had a really good vibe about it so I am really looking forward to doing more of this throughout the years to come.”