Cochrane's plan to nurture Indigenous talent
Former Sea Eagles hooker Mal Cochrane is one of five new members in the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council charged with providing strategic advice to the game in a bid to achieve greater recognition, involvement and support for Indigenous communities throughout Australia.
The 1986 Rothmans Medal winner – who was also named hooker in the Indigenous Team of the Century – hopes to build on the foundations Council chair Linda Burney and her team started back in 2012.
"It's a real honour to be invited onto the Council," Cochrane said.
"They've done a lot of wonderful things in our game, particularly in regards to giving Aboriginal people a voice in the game. I'm hopeful that we can continue to build on what's already been a great job that's been done."
Speaking to NRL.com, Cochrane recalled the 1996 tour to the UK where he coached an under-16s Australian Aboriginal side that provided the next wave of talent with a taste of representative football.
"We took a development squad to the UK around this time 20 years ago," he said.
"There were some very gifted players in that team. Dean Widders, Mark Mundine, Luke Hookey were just a few of the players who went on to make grade.
"It was a really wonderful concept that set up a reasonable legacy going forward for that to occur again.
"We took on the British Amateur League. We played against teams in their competition, and then they had a couple of Test matches.
"It's always difficult playing in England given how their referees see the game, so it was always tough for us, but we held our own.
"A lot of the players were missing home by the end of the tour, so perhaps their performances waned by the end of it, but overall, it was a very successful tour."
While he admitted there would be financial and logistical challenges involved, Cochrane said it would be worthwhile exploring avenues that would make a repeat of that tour possible.
"We should always keep an open mind when it comes to the career paths of our next generations," he said.
"It was successful back then and I couldn't see why it wouldn't be successful again today. With the number of teams we've got paying rugby league at the moment from all over the world, I see it as a genuine possibility.
"When you look at the 16 per cent of Aboriginal players in the national side, we're always looking to make that number higher. If this is the benchmark that we've got, then our goal should be to do better than that in the years to come. This could be something we do to help make that happen.
"We'd like to have a pathway for gifted Aboriginal footballers so we can nurture their talent with a focus on how we can fund that."