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Peter V'landys launched Indigenous Round and the NRL's "Pass Back. Move Forward" campaign on Monday with a 20-metre spiral back to last December.

Recalling how "I was ashamed of myself" after an emotion-charged meeting with the game's most senior Indigenous players.

Media coverage around Latrell Mitchell, and the ongoing debate around the Australian anthem were the flashpoints.

A feeling of underwhelming support from head office was the undercurrent, with V'landys walking away vowing to "take up this cause with a passion".

Six months on, senior Indigenous players Joel Thompson, Ryan James and Tyrone Roberts phoned their NRL counterparts once more.

Josh Addo-Carr at Melbourne and Blake Ferguson at Parramatta were already circulating WhatsApp messages around taking a collectively knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The last time leading Indigenous players responded to a delicate issue – the choice of Cody Walker and others not to sing the national anthem during Origin – the fallout was immense.

A year from that initial anthem controversy, V'landys and the NRL executive made it plain that players taking a knee was endorsed by the governing body.

"It's pretty unprecedented this support from the NRL, it makes me so proud of our game," Thompson told

"It did sort of start with that meeting last year. We had concerns about our place in the game and our players, the way they were being treated.

"Peter's obviously got a busy schedule but he took the time to come and sit with us and share some stories and listen to our stories.

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"He shared a few of his own experiences from growing up as well.

"But overall he was there to support us players and that's what it's all about.

"There was some emotion for some, but it was also just a healthy conversation, sharing our opinions where we didn't feel like we were being heard before.

"I think going forward it's benefiting everyone to have healthy, happy players who believe in where the game is going. It goes both ways with that support."

'Pass Back. Move Forward.' It works on a rugby league level.

And it works because more and more, counterparts from across the game are standing, taking a knee or whatever it be, alongside their Indigenous friends, teammates and opponents.

Earlier this week Thompson was holding court during the NRL's Online Yarning Circle, a live seminar broadcast to high school students across the country.

The Manly veteran was asked "what's Des Hasler really like?" by a curious kid.

Thompson responded with the grizzly coach's reaction to the story he and Daly Cherry-Evans had been interviewed for a day prior, in which Thompson had explained his anthem stance to his skipper.

"He said he was really proud of me and Chez doing the article in the [Daily] Telegraph," Thompson told the forum.

"He said it was really emotional for himself and how proud he was of us speaking about Indigenous culture and how presenting a united front is the next step.

"He called us in after our video session, and we saw how much it affected Des.

"And just how proud he was that we had stood up and talked about it."

After that initial meeting with a core Indigenous leadership group, V'landys rang around the editors of media organisations to address the coverage of Indigenous players in the game.

Latrell Mitchell's off-season contract saga was the catalyst. The consequences of the introspection that followed, by all parties, has been stark.

Back to Country: Indigenous players reconnect

"I hope that in this round we educate other people like me to get a better understanding, and to show the hurt that can happen when you don't understand," V'landys said on Monday.

"If we can use rugby league for that, we're using it for a great purpose."

Some of the stories told this week by Indigenous players have nothing short of phenomenal.

Steve Renouf's raw and confronting battles with racism three decades ago are as powerful as caught on a camera in rugby league.

Mitchell's own detailing of abuse and mental health battles thirty years on just as stark.

Cody Walker's young fella embraced the "shake-a-leg" on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Gavin Badger told of how tracing his Indigenous roots changed his life.

In "passing back" the struggles and hurt of the past must be acknowledged.

There's no moving forward without it, or the storytelling that has formed the bedrock of the world's oldest culture.

"I think it's been fantastic, I've been really proud of some of the stories told this week," Thompson said.

"As far as Indigenous Round goes I think this has been the best so far for me, previously we've shown our culture through our jerseys and playing.

"But this year we're telling our stories like never before.

"Showing our art, sharing our stories and really trying to help people understand.

"I think that's how we truly walk together. We've got issues right across all communities, so it can't be just a black fellas fight.

"We need non-indigenous people helping and fighting for us, and the only way that happens is if they understand our culture and have empathy towards some of the things going on.

"People are genuinely interested. They want to know what country we're standing on. It can change someone that conversation, and then you see a ripple effect further down the track."


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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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