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Fifita to head NRL stars featuring in Koori Knockout

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita will headline the NRL talent playing in the 49th annual NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout from October 4-7.

More than 140 teams will participate in the competition – commonly referred to as the Koori Knockout – with 40,000-plus people predicted to attend the Central Coast Regional Sporting Complex across four days.

Fifita, who has barely missed a Knockout in the past 10 years, will line up for Griffith Three Ways United, while a slew of other Indigenous NRL players are expected to feature for different sides.

"Pretty much every [Indigenous] NRL player that doesn't make the grand final or the semis plays," Fifita told NRL.com. "Last year, Greg Inglis played, myself, my brothers, Jimmy Roberts, Jesse Ramien [to name a few]."

Manly forward Joel Thompson has been ruled out as he recovers from a broken arm.

Meanwhile, the availability of guns like Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Roberts and Cody Walker largely depends on whether their teams make the NRL grand final.

For Fifita, playing alongside family and friends in the Knockout allows him to de-stress from the hectic NRL season and simply enjoy the game.

Fifita breaks through Moses

The powerhouse forward noted there "aren't many rules" in the Knockout and reckons the free-flowing style helped him prepare for the rigours of State of Origin.

"It's just that kind of [play] where the whistle's being put in the back pocket and it's ready to roll," the 10-time NSW representative said.

While conceding his star status would result in a "target on my head", Fifita promised to provide entertainment.

"I'm still going to be that player that everyone wants to see ... Our footy is a bit different compared to your normal footy. We've got a bit more flair, we love the speed to run around things," he said.

"When you talk about the different front-rower I am, I like to chip, chase and everything in these games ... For myself, it's just to give back to my family and give back to my friends."

The 30-year-old Tongan and Australian international said the standard of play in the tournament varies but is generally strong.

"It depends on your draw. We could be up against a really hard team like Walgett or the [Newcastle] Yowies – they're normally stacked full of NRL quality from left to right," Fifita said.

"Other than that, most of them come from the outskirts of NSW and they're just honoured to play against NRL players. I've played kids before who are first up and are just honoured to be knocked out by us and be around us."

The cultural aspect of the Knockout is special, with the tournament likened to a corroboree.

"Aboriginal culture is built around family and community and this event delivers that," said the NRL's senior manager of Indigenous strategy Mark DeWeerd.

"It will be well attended, it's supported by the community on the Central Coast. The Newcastle All Blacks have done a great job pulling the event together."

A total of 64 men's, 20 women's and 79 youth sides will take to the field.

"The beauty of the Knockout is it always brings up new talent from a rugby league perspective," DeWeerd said.

"It always throws up surprises. There are opportunities for young people to come up against NRL talent and prove themselves."

This year's hosts Newcastle All Blacks were the 2018 men's winners. The Newcastle Yowies and Western Koori Eels are the defending champions in the women's and under-17s boys divisions respectively.

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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