Titans star's dream beyond football
At 21 years of age he contributed to a DVD aimed at addressing and reducing suicide rates among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people and now Ryan James has revealed plans to further help Indigenous youth.
A proud descendant of the Bundjalung people of northern New South Wales, James will wear specially designed boots representing the Tweed River and the New South Wales and Queensland borders that it shares for this weekend's Indigenous Round clash with the Storm and also for next week's home game against Manly.
Ever cognisant of the role he can play as a person of influence in the Indigenous community, James first signed on as a Deadly Choices ambassador in 2012, completed a Bachelor of Business degree at Griffith University late last year and is now plotting an initiative to help young Indigenous footballers transition into NRL clubs more easily.
For every Ryan James and Johnathan Thurston there are dozens of talented Indigenous boys who find being separated from their communities too difficult to cope with which is why James wants to establish a home where Indigenous boys will feel comfortable and connected to others going through a similar experience.
Fortunate to have had a stable upbringing on the Gold Coast where he lived with his parents until a couple of years after making his NRL debut, James and former Titans teammate Greg Bird first discussed the idea of a share house for young Indigenous players four years ago and the club captain is eager to revisit the concept.
Believing it would be a valuable asset both on the Gold Coast and in Sydney, James said that such an initiative with a live-in Indigenous elder to offer support would make it much easier for talented Indigenous footballers to move away from home and find success in the NRL.
"I remember talking about this with Greg Bird probably four years ago and we had the plan to have some sort of house where we had an elder in the house too to make it a lot easier on the kids," James told NRL.com.
"Me and 'Birdy' used to look at a fair few properties and I remember one popping up in Robina and thinking that it would be perfect.
"It was two houses and it would have been great to have something in place then but I was only young and it was just talk at the time.
"I still think there is room for something like that in the NRL, to have someone at the club who works for the club and can live in a share house and have some of the Indigenous kids.
"If you have a kid moving in from a community out west that's never been in the city, especially in Sydney, it's life-changing. To have some sort of support back home would make a big difference.
"Simple things like having a home-cooked meal and not having to do all your laundry and do everything yourself. Many of the kids go from doing not much at home to having to do everything and working a full-time job on top of that is just such a massive transition for Indigenous people.
"In Sydney they could even play for different 20s teams or NRL teams and still live in the same house if they wanted. It would be great to see something like that come on board."
James's positive influence on the Gold Coast community and his deep attachment to the area made him an obvious choice to be named co-captain in 2017, an honour he now carries on his shoulders alone.
When he came into the NRL squad midway through the 2010 season the Bilambil Jets junior was paired with Preston Campbell for his first away trip to face the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown.
Now a couple of months shy of his 26th birthday, James feels a great sense of responsibility to carry forward the example set by the likes of Campbell and Scott Prince and use his position to make a difference in the lives of others.
"When you're playing footy you're not thinking too much about the outside world but once you get a bit older and start getting more responsibilities it starts to hit home a little bit more," said James, who has a son Carter.
"[Working on the Deadly Choices video] was definitely an eye opener because you don't realise how much happens. It's such a terrible thing to be a part of and be around but it's good to create awareness around it and use your image to help raise awareness.
"We've had guys who are second to none with their community work like Preston Campbell and Scott Prince and I've gone on massive road trips with them and seen first-hand what they've done in the community.
"I'm lucky that I've got a great support group. I've always had my parents, my wife Ana and Ana's parents around so I've always had people to lean on in time of need.
"I've been very fortunate in my life but a lot of these Indigenous kids that move away from families and those who don't have that support around them it's a bit hard."