Indigenous stars front and centre of the game
Round 10 of the NRL Telstra Premiership won't just be another week of thrilling matches, breathtaking tries and bruising big hits, with the game set to celebrate Indigenous Round.
Referees and a number of teams will wear specially designed Indigenous jerseys and a Welcome to Country will be performed at all matches to go along with countless other events that will help recognise and celebrate Indigenous culture.
Rugby league and the Indigenous community have held a strong symbiotic bond since the first Aboriginal team was formed in 1973. In more recent years the NRL has announced an Indigenous Team of the Century and we have seen the formation of the now annual Indigenous All Stars v World All Stars fixture.
NRL education and welfare officer Dean Widders has welcomed everything the game has done to assist the Indigenous community, but it's the All Stars concept – started in 2010 – that has touched him the most.
"What we've got at All Stars is really special and unique," Widders told NRL.com.
"It means family, community, legacy and looking forward to a positive future. It's not just another game of footy. You go and play for your club, you go play representative footy, but this is playing for your family, and family to us means everything."
It's an event Widders hopes will spark more and more change as it continues to grow on and off the field.
"It's great to see how far we've come and what a great difference rugby league is making," he continued.
"I always look at rugby league as setting trends and positive changes in society as far as Indigenous people are concerned.
"Sometimes you see something happen on the rugby league field and it creates a positive change socially or politically. I can't wait to see the effect the Indigenous All Stars has on the next generation of people."
One of the most significant advancements in the relationship between rugby league and the Indigenous community has been the promotion of players from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island background into leadership roles.
Johnathan Thurston and Justin Hodges skippered their respective sides in the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership decider and were joined on grand final day by Holden Cup winning captain Brent Naden (Penrith Panthers) and NRL State Championship winner Keiron Lander (Ipswich Jets) who are also Indigenous.
"It was a fantastic achievement and it made me very proud to see them on that stage," the former NRL star said.
"For me that just represents a great opportunity. What are we going to do with this great opportunity where we have great players at the top of the game doing great things?
"These guys are in leadership roles, so how are we going to change rugby league, and also use rugby league as a vehicle to change the country?"
One of those ways would be through the introduction of a traditional war dance – similar to New Zealand's Haka – which new Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has gone on record as saying it's something he has considered doing before games.
"I'd love to see it. Even our dance that the players have come up with now is a really positive story about our culture," Widders explained.
"It tells a lot of the positive things and a lot of the little things that go into that dance. There's a story about the formations and a lot of the movements tell a lot of positive stories about Indigenous culture and I think that's a way of spreading those messages to the rest of the country.
"I think with a team such as the Kangaroos doing it, your audience just becomes bigger. For me, I think Australia needs it.
"It'll be healing for the country, it'll help people focus and move forward in terms of reconciliation, and I think also it'd be a great initiative for the Kangaroos because I don't think there would be many sporting teams in Australia that would have the opportunity to do something like this."
While Widders no longer plays the game, he has remained heavily involved in rugby league both and off the field as coach of the Redfern All Blacks in the annual NSW Koori Knockout Cup.
The competition is one of the most important sporting events on the calendar and highlights how far the game has come.
The Knockout Cup has evolved greatly since its inception in 1971, with the final two days of the state-wide tournament shown live on the National Indigenous Television channel on the same long weekend as the NRL grand final.
Last year's competition saw Widders' side crowned champions for the seventh time with NRL player Josh Addo-Carr and former leading try-scorer Nathan Merritt part of the squad.
The All Blacks' women also lifted the trophy in 2015 to make it back-to-back championships.
"The Knockout is something that brings all our communities together. It allows us to celebrate all as one. It's like a modern day corrobboree," he said.
"It's the only place where you'll see world class players who play for their country in any sport go back and play at amateur level with their friends, their brothers and their family.
"You never see any of the soccer stars of the world go back and play with their brothers in a carnival. It's amazing that it happens in rugby league.
"In Redfern we've worked hard in the community and we've tried to change the community for the better by sending positive messages to kids and those sorts of things.
"Those messages are starting to show on the footy field and we were lucky enough to win the competition last year. We're looking at our team to be a real leader in the community as far as what we can do to teach other communities by using rugby league as a vehicle to drive positive change."