Thompson: All Stars a chance to use our voices
Rugby league players have a "massive voice" in their communities and the All Stars week provides the perfect platform for Indigenous players to give back to their communities, according to Dragons back-rower Joel Thompson.
Thompson is in his fifth Indigenous All Stars camp and said he has seen the concept grow every year. He has grown along with it and is now better able to use his seniority to mentor younger players who are newer to the group.
Suggestions the game be scrapped come from people who don't understand the positive benefit it has, he said.
"It's a good game, it's really good for our people and it's a great concept from the NRL," Thompson said.
"It's a great week up there, we get out in the community as well. It's a big thing for our culture and our people. We get some important messages across to our community and it's a great game for rugby league."
Those who question the value of the fixture simply don't understand its importance to the Indigenous community, Thompson added.
"I don't think they realise how important it is for our culture. Rugby league's got a massive voice in the community, we get some important messages across and it's a gathering for our people," he said.
"We keep the traditions, we talk about culture, we talk about all this stuff, we go into camp with some young guys coming though and talk to them about what it means to be in rugby league.
"It really means a lot to our people. It's easy for people who are not a part of it to say it's nothing but it is something special. You see leaders like 'GI' [Greg Inglis] and Johnathan Thurston come out and voice their opinion too."
Thompson said the concept had only grown through the five years he'd been involved.
"It has grown; every year it gets bigger and better. Like I said we've got massive voices in the community so we get some important messages across in the community as well so it's a great week," he said.
Earlier on when the fixture was in its younger days it was all about learning but now it has become more about giving back, not just to the community but to younger Indigenous players, Thompson said. It's even got to the point where he himself is enrolled to start university in a fortnight studying social work - something that by his own admission he never thought he'd be doing.
"I've been speaking about what I've been doing with the younger guys and how important it is to make sure they're working and doing stuff outside of footy to get that balance," he said.
"I spoke about that balance, and how important it is for us to give back in the community. We're seen as role models and we've got a massive voice in the community. I spoke about that, I learned and learned and started to give back more in these camps which is good."
One of the most active players in the NRL when it comes to community work and involvement, Thompson was rewarded over the off-season with a spot in an educational trip organised by NRL Education and Wellbeing Manager Nigel Vagana, along with George Rose, Dene Halatau and Bronson Harrison.
"It was mostly educational, they rewarded me for the work I've been doing in the community," Thompson said.
"It was a learning trip, I took a lot away from that. Learning about the American Indians and different stuff, spoke at the university so it was a big trip for me and I couldn't thank the NRL enough for letting me go."
Thompson said he learned plenty, including about the parallels in terms of the challenges faced by the indigenous communities of both countries.
"The statistics are very similar over there so it was very interesting, I never knew that. There are massive gaps over there in education, and health is a big one. I definitely took a lot out of it."