James honoured to fill Preston's shoes
Both literally and figuratively, Titans forward Ryan James will use Indigenous Round to try and fill the shoes of Preston Campbell.
Special Indigenous Round jerseys worn by the Titans against the Roosters on Monday night will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Preston Campbell Foundation and Deadly Choices.
Also to be auctioned off will be specially-painted boots worn by the club's Indigenous players, featuring designs by acclaimed Indigenous artist Christine Slabb, who also designed the Titans jersey.
James however, will be wearing boots painted by Campbell himself, a metaphorical passing of the baton from one Titan with strong community ties to another.
When 19-year-old James made his NRL debut in 2010 he was paired up with 33-year-old Campbell and has since travelled extensively with the man who inspired the All Stars concept on visits to remote Indigenous communities.
James doesn't always like what he sees when he visits places such as Doomadgee and Mornington Island but has been inspired by Campbell's influence to also be an active participant in Indigenous issues.
"I was lucky enough to come into the Titans side at a young age and my first roommate happened to be Preston Campbell," James tells NRL.com.
"I don't know if it was by choice or 'Carty' (former Titans coach John Cartwright) had the idea that he has this ability to keep people calm and collected but it definitely helped me as a young kid.
"Just going to remote communities, seeing how back from civilization they actually are compared to places like the Gold Coast is really shocking.
"We go to places like Doomadgee and Mornington Island where natural resources are hard to come by. They sort of still live as they would have back in the day so seeing the impact he has is really inspiring.
"Having someone like 'Presto' do my boots means the world to me because he's had such a big influence on my life.
"I always say the same about 'Princey' (Scott Prince) as well. He's a big name in the NRL and the impact that those two had early in my career has definitely helped me to realise how much it does mean to give back to the community."
Despite being in his seventh year in the NRL, Monday night will be the first time James has actually played during Indigenous Round, his deep connection to the local area making the game at Cbus Super Stadium even more significant.
A proud descendent of the Bundjalung people who have connections to northern New South Wales dating back more than 12,000 years, James was raised to have a strong sense of culture, giving a Round 10 game against the Roosters a much greater significance.
"We're from the Bundjalung people and Mum's side of the family has all grown up in the Tweed area so this round's even more important to me being a local junior and being from the area," said the 24-year-old.
"I get to represent my people from just south of the border and it's going to be a proud moment for me running out on Monday night because I haven't played in an Indigenous Round since I've played in the NRL.
"I've always been injured so it's the first one I get to run out in and it's going to be a great moment for me and the family.
"Christine has artworks in the USA, Japan, South Africa and Denmark so she has been able to spread the Indigenous culture all over the world and for us to have the opportunity to wear her design on the Gold Coast really does mean a lot to us."
The auction of Indigenous Round jerseys and boots will go live on www.titans.com.au during Monday night's game against the Roosters. All proceeds will go to the Deadly Choices program and the Preston Campbell Foundation.