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Sharks half Shaun Johnson.

Cronulla star Shaun Johnson is set to use his profile to encourage more Australians of Asian heritage to play rugby league and help develop the game in Laos.

Johnson, whose mother Say fled from Laos to New Zealand in 1980, has taken up the roles of patron and non-executive director of NRL Asia.

The Sharks playmaker will be involved with the launch of the Laos Rugby League Federation and a new ethnic-based rugby league competition in Sydney for male and female players of Asian heritage.

"Shaun is the most successful Asian heritage player of his generation and he has strong family and cultural connections to Laos," NRL Asia CEO Peter Thompson said.

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"It is something that is close to his heart and his mother was very excited to hear that rugby league is starting in Laos.

"He has put his hand up to be involved in everything from trophy presentations to going to games to running coaching clinics and helping with fundraising. He wants to be involved with the board and give feedback on the work we are doing."

Johnson travelled to Laos in 2017 with his mother, father Paul and brothers Topo, Adam and Joe for an emotional homecoming that was filmed as a documentary for Sky NZ.

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"I think it's a natural thing as you get older where you want to understand a little bit more about who you are," Johnson said in an interview with the NZ Herald. "A big part of who we are is my mum, and my mum's side."

Broncos prop Payne Haas, Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Newcastle halfback Mason Lino are other NRL players of Asian heritage.

Former ARLC chairman Peter Beattie said in 2019 that the game needed to develop closer ties with Asian communities and it was hoped that the emergence of Haas would encourage more Asians to play rugby league.

"A number of NRL clubs collect information about the heritage of their members and the Bulldogs were able to tell us that the Asian representation among their membership has almost doubled in seven years from between 2 per cent and 3 per cent to 4.5 per cent," Thompson said.

"The Roosters have had an increase in their Asian membership as well."

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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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