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NRL Indigenous Pathways Manager Dean Widders.

There is no better time than Indigenous Round for the NRL to showcase the success of their School to Work program.

On Tuesday the NRL formally toasted the success of the community initiative, one of the sport's marquee programs which helps 500 indigenous students each year make the transition from high school into employment or further education.

NRL Major Events project manager Farrah Lance kicked off the celebrations by delivering an Acknowledgement of Country, sharing her experiences and the positive impact the game has had on her life.

The NRL's Senior Manager for Indigenous Strategy, Mark Deweerd, then switched the focus to the work the NRL does to support Indigenous communities and its impact, highlighting the School to Work program's 98 per cent transition rate of participants in the program.

School to Work participants took part in a panel discussion, sharing their stories and experience in the program.

NRL staff at Moore Park also had the chance to sit down with the participants for a 'Lunch and Learn' session where they were able to further discuss their experiences in the program and how they were tracking with their career or further education aspirations.

NRL Head of Government and Community Relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder.
NRL Head of Government and Community Relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder.

NRL Head of Government and Community Relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder, told it was important to highlight the success of the program in honour of Indigenous Round.

"To think about our sport and the close links we have with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Indigenous Round is a great opportunity for us to celebrate the many contributions and to say thank you," Jaymes said.

"This morning was an opportunity for us as part of Indigenous Round to give staff here at the NRL some exposure to the terrific work that we do in communities.

"The morning tea and the Lunch and Learn was an opportunity for the NRL staff to meet some of the participants and hear about the difference our rugby league programs are having on their lives.

"This is one of many opportunities that we'll see for the School to Work participants through the round. Here at the NRL this is the main piece for the School to Work students but also across the round on game days students are being given opportunities through their home clubs at participate in the round as well."

Emily Backhouse, who was a participant in the Wests Tigers program, is now undertaking a double degree in a Bachelor of Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Social Work at Western Sydney University.

She expressed great thanks to the NRL staff who supported her and said the program not only supported her through school but other important aspects of her life as well.

"I grew up in foster care in a non-indigenous household so for me connecting back to culture was really important knowing that I could do that whilst also getting help with my education and finding opportunities for me after school," Backhouse said.

University student Emily Backhouse.
University student Emily Backhouse. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"At school teachers are so engrossed in the teaching of that particular class they don't really have discussions around opportunities we have after school or the different avenues we can take in employment or further education.

"So having people like Shaun Humphries (School to Work Program Manager) and Ainslie Regan (Wests Tigers Project Office) who actually cared about what we were doing after school was important for me.

"I learnt a lot throughout the program and it wasn't just about building my skills and looking at my options after school, I actually learnt a lot about myself personally."

The NRL leads the way through being one of 22 companies nationally to have ''Elevate'' status which is the highest of the four levels of the Reconciliations Action Plan.

NRL Indigenous Pathways Manager Dean Widders beams with pride when he talks about the game's contribution to Indigenous players and the community.

The former Parramatta, South Sydney and Sydney Roosters back-rower said it was important to note although Australia has come a long way, there is still a lot of work to be done, considering the levels of disadvantage which still exist.

"A lot of the credit needs to go to the guys in our Indigenous Strategy team headed up by Mark DeWeerd," Widders said.

"We've got a great platform at the NRL and through the game to make a difference so I think as a game we must stand up and use that platform to make a difference and talk about the real issues out there. The NRL is heading in the right direction and we have come a long way but there is still a lot of work to be done and a long way to go.

"For me, I'm proud working in a game that takes that seriously and as a player, I'm proud of all the players, whether they're Indigenous or non-Indigenous. It is all about embracing our Indigenous culture and the positivity it creates in our communities."

The NRL School to Work program is support by the Federal government to continue to close the gap for Indigenous communities.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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