Merritt prepares for final Redfern farewell
He holds a special place in the heart of all South Sydney fans but this weekend Nathan Merritt is planning to farewell rugby league forever with an 18th and final appearance at the New South Wales Aboriginal Knockout at Leichhardt Oval.
The annual Koori Knockout will be played on Sunday, October 2 and Monday, October 3 with Merritt's Redfern All Blacks the defending champs as some 100 teams and 40,000 people prepare to gather for a festival of rugby league and culture.
Now two years removed from an NRL career that featured 154 tries in 237 first grade appearances, Merritt's connection to the All Blacks and the Knockout stretches back to when he was just 15 years of age lining up alongside his father, Tony.
But after an 18-year association Merritt has told NITV that the All Blacks' title defence will most likely be the final Knockout in which he plays.
"This will probably most likely be my last Knockout. I'd like to go out on a good note and hopefully that's another Knockout win," Merritt told NITV, who will provide complete coverage of the Knockout on Sunday and Monday.
"As long as we play with passion and heart we can go close to achieving that Knockout win again.
"To put this jumper on is a tremendous feeling. It really sinks into your heart.
"You're playing for your heart and your family and your culture. We put our body on the line; blood, sweat, tears, everything goes out when we go out on that footy field.
"Redfern's a big part of my heart and that jumper plays a big part."
Some of the game's biggest stars feature in the Knockout each and every year with Merritt joined in the All Blacks last year by fellow former Rabbitoh and Eel Dean Widders and current Wests Tigers star Josh Addo-Carr.
But Merritt's most treasured Knockout teammate over the years has been his father Tony, and the 33-year-old hinted that the opportunity to play alongside his own son Jalen in the future could see him make a Knockout comeback.
"I was very lucky and fortunate to be able to play in the Knockout with my old man," said Merritt, who retired at the end of the 2014 season and established the Nathan Merritt Foundation.
"I won three Knockouts with my old man as well and that's something that I don't think anyone else has ever achieved in the Knockout.
"That was special for me.
"In 1998 or 1999 I was 15 years old, a young, little, skinny Indigenous kid from Redfern and playing alongside me old man was a different kind of feeling.
"I felt like my father was going to look after me out on the field so I felt very happy.
"Hopefully one day I'm able to do that with my son."
Wallaby great Mark Ella is head of sport and internal productions at NITV and said that the Knockout was more than a sporting celebration for Indigenous Australians.
"The Koori Knockout showcases some of Australia’s best rugby league talent – but it's so much more than that," Ella said.
"The event is about family, community and celebrating local Aboriginal culture – it’s a real modern-day corroboree.
“NITV is proud to bring viewers all the action and community stories from the Koori Knockout over the long weekend, as we have done for the last eight years."
NITV's coverage of the 46th NSW Aboriginal Knockout can be seen from 9am on Sunday and Monday on channel 34 and Foxtel channel 144.