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Titans captain Ryan James proudly wears his 2016 Indigenous All Stars jersey.

He was the man an entire community looked toward for inspiration and now Preston Campbell has nominated the NRL star he believes can be the next Indigenous leader.

The driving force behind the establishment of the All Stars concept in 2010, Campbell passed on the leadership mantle to the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis when he retired, men who have had as much influence within the community as they have within the confines of a football field.

But with the retirement last year of Thurston and Inglis announcing that season 2020 will be his last, there is a void that will soon need to be filled; Campbell believes Titans captain Ryan James has the requisite qualities to do it.

A knee injury suffered at training two weeks ago will prevent James from taking his customary position in the front row for the Indigenous All Stars team that will face the New Zealand Maori in Melbourne on Friday night but he will join the camp on Wednesday to take part in community activities.

Highly regarded for the work he does within the Gold Coast community, James last year won the Ken Stephen Medal and at 27 years of age is the one Campbell would like to see assume the position that Thurston and Inglis have both held.

Campbell: Why All-Stars concept had to evolve

"Without putting too much pressure on him, someone like Ryan James, he is one guy that I would like to see standing up in front not just leading our people but bringing people together,” Campbell told

"He's a good example of the type of person we need.

"There are many out there but Ryan has done enough now to have that standing in the community.

"We're going to miss guys like 'JT' and 'GI' but Ryan's journey has been uninterrupted, and that's something that's pretty rare these days for people with a high profile. I call it 'staying above the line' and he's lived that.

"I wouldn't have any hesitation in putting my hand up and saying that Ryan should be captain for the Titans, captain for the All Stars team and one day captain for New South Wales and Australia.”

A four-time Indigenous All Stars representative, James was agonisingly close to making his Origin debut in 2018.

He knows he doesn't yet possess the resume on the field that Thurston and Inglis amassed but is passionate about leading the next generation of Indigenous players in making a difference.

"Before JT retired they were two of the top five players in the world. It would be hard to step into one of those roles being the calibre of player that they are but if I can do it I'll do my best," James said.

"It's something that I like doing, being part of the community and giving back. It wouldn’t be uncomfortable for me to do and if I was able to do it I’d love to do it.

"That’s what this week is about, trying to get everyone together and be part of it."

All Stars a great chance for players to share their stories

Players such as Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr and Tyrone Peachey all made their Origin debuts in 2018 and James believes natural leaders will emerge over the course of the week.

"They might not see themselves as leaders just yet but they'll realise over the next couple of weeks that they have to stand up and become a leader," James said.

"Guys like Latrell, Jimmy Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Ferguson, they've all played at the top level and even guys like Ash (Taylor) and Tyrone (Roberts).

"Obviously Andrew (Fifita) is a leader as well. He played at Origin level and played for Australia and Tonga so he's respected by everyone.

"There are plenty in the game - it’s just a matter over the next couple of weeks of recognising who is going to do it and who is going to stand up.”

For Campbell, the example set by James is one all players would do well to follow.

"We need to look at some young men that are not only good athletes but are really good people. Ryan is one of those fellas," said Campbell.

"Having guys like him out front, these are the people we need our young people to see. Not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, all people in Australia."


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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