Connor Watson surprised 15 young artists at training this week with Indigenous Knights jerseys as a way to say thank you for painting players' boots to support an important cause.
Several Knights players will put their specially designed boots, painted by local Aboriginal youths, up for auction this week in a bid to raise money for suicide prevention in Indigenous communities.
In return, the youths who took part in the Brighter Futures initiative this season were given jerseys Watson helped design last year, matching those that the Knights will wear onto the field against Manly on Sunday.
It will be Watson's first game in the Indigenous strip after he ruptured his Achilles before last year's week-long festival in 2020.
The collective effort is part of a bigger picture for Watson, last year's Ken Stephen Medallist, who has openly spoken about the loss of his cousin Parker to suicide in 2017.
Watson's relationship with past teammates and other players in the game stretches from as far as Newcastle to Melbourne with players from five other NRL clubs also set to do the same.
Watson: Why Indigenous Round means so much
"It's been cool to hear guys from other clubs absolutely keen to wear boots designed by young artists involved in CCA," Watson told NRL.com.
"Dylan Napa sent me a text yesterday, he's not Aboriginal or a Torres Strait Islander, but is absolutely frothing the artwork and what it all means.
"It really means a lot and the young kids involved have done an awesome job. We've got the Wests Tigers, Bulldogs, Roosters, Storm and Canberra on board.
"Rads [Victor Radley] and Angus [Crichton] were also going to wear boots at the Roosters but they're suspended so we'll make sure we do something with them soon."
Watson said he admired the courage and friendship of Souths star Latrell Mitchell in recent years after the pair started their journeys at the Roosters together in 2016.
While Watson has never personally been a victim of racism, Mitchell has been very open in the public domain about social issues.
"I feel like we have a really good crop of Indigenous players coming through but moreso ones that aren't afraid to use their voice and stand up for what's right," Watson said.
"To use our platform to promote some social justice issues, I think it's important.
"We're in a position where we're fortunate enough that people will pay attention to what we do and listen to what we say.
"If we can create positive change, especially for our people, we'd be selfish not to. It's important to put the spotlight on Indigenous culture and everything that we stand for."
2020 Ken Stephen Medallist – Connor Watson
The Rabbitohs will auction off their boots to children's mental health program Rising Warriors with 26 players at the club set to wear specially designed footwear this weekend.
Like Watson's charity, Souths star Cody Walker said the Rising Warriors program also focused on suicide in Aboriginal communities.
"It's a pretty important program to be a part of," Walker said.
"If you look at the numbers they're quite alarming and quite scary. Thirty percent of Aboriginal deaths in kids are caused by suicide. It's crazy to know that.
"It's obviously a special week to be a part of. To celebrate some of the great things our people have done in the game. We make up three per cent of the population but make up 12 per cent of the NRL.
"It's quite an amazing stat, but also sheds some light on Aboriginal issues that are faced in communities across Australia, that's pretty important as well."
Walker uses his right foot to dance through the line
Walker opened up on the challenges Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people face in the community from a statistical perspective.
"I've got to live healthier than a lot of my teammates at the same age so as a stat I probably, to put it bluntly, I'll die eight years before my [non-Indigenous] mate," Walker said.
"That's not because of how I live, that's because of my race, that's the reality of it.
"We're more prone to chronic diseases. That's not because of how we live, it's just who we are as people which is scary.
"This is why Indigenous Round is so important. The NRL does a great job in supporting these rounds which is awesome.
"[All] 16 clubs have got Indigenous jerseys. You can tell by the storylines that came out over the week about what their jersey means, it's quite amazing to see."