Indigenous war dance goes beyond football

It will remain one of the most powerful images to come from the Harvey Norman All Stars.

When Indigenous All Stars skipper Greg Inglis emerged from his team's huddle to lead the traditional war cry, the atmosphere at McDonald Jones Stadium changed completely. 

Flanked by his teammates and Indigenous dancers, Inglis cut a powerful figure as he led the pre-game challenge in one of the most emotive renditions ever seen.

For two minutes, the crowd cheered on their heroes, pausing as one when appropriate, and then erupting in unison every time the players advanced towards the 'enemy'. 

It was the sort of feeling New Zealanders get when their side performs the Haka, and it was an event that will long live in the memory banks of those in attendance, as well as the people watching it at home. 

While the dance itself was truly special, what happened next summed up what the week has been about as the two teams came together to show their mutual respect for all the cultures on show. 

The war cry clearly worked for the Indigenous All Stars as they raced out to an early 16-0 lead, and man-of-the-match Johnathan Thurston hopes it will continue to inspire the next generation of stars wanting to do their people proud. 

"I've obviously been a part of it for a number of years now and the boys really embrace it," Thurston said after the game. 

"When you're playing in this game, the adrenalin's flowing and you're really on song, and I thought we were in that first 20 [minutes]. 

"It's a great dance, the players had all the input as to how we wanted that war dance to come out, and hopefully now the next generation that are coming through, they see that and they want to be a part of that."

 

The champion halfback also paid tribute to the World All Stars who embraced the Indigenous side following the traditional pre-game challenge in a touching display of respect.

"The World All Stars want to be a part of it and I can't thank them enough for what they've done for this game for the years that it's been played," Thurston said. 

"When we embraced it's about inclusiveness – that's why they're called the World All Stars – and it was a really good touch."

For World All Stars skipper Jake Friend, the week in Newcastle was an opportunity to learn about not only himself, but more importantly the history that has shaped Australia and its first people.  

He too was in awe of the war dance, going so far as to describe it as something that went "beyond football". 

"Watching the dance, you sort of get goosebumps and you get pumped up," he said. 

"But at the end it's just footy and we went and shook their hands. Most of the boys all know each other so it shows where rugby league is moving forward. It was an awesome thing and I think it was beyond football.

"To be involved for the first time… it is a massive week and it's something that I really enjoyed and I know all of our boys did. You probably don't realise how big the week is and how much it means to the Indigenous community until you are involved in it. 

"We did a workshop with some of the Murri Murri kids on Wednesday and you learn a lot about yourself there. To interact with the community in Newcastle has been great and everybody has supported the game. 

"You know the game is the spectacle, but all the stuff that goes on during the week is awesome and it was great to be a part of."