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Johnathan Thurston.

Johnathan Thurston established the JT Academy to improve education and employment opportunities for Indigenous youth but the former NRL superstar says more needs to be done.

Thurston, who will take on the role of assistant coach with Queensland in the upcoming State of Origin series, encouraged the game to continue working to highlight the 25 per cent gap for Indigenous students completing Year 12 and 26 per cent disparity for those who secure a regular job.

The NRL, through the School to Work program, and organisations like the JT Academy are making a significant difference but it is not enough.

"Indigenous round is about making people aware that whilst we are making improvements, we have still got a long way to go," Thurston said.

"Our parents and grandparents fought for land rights and the right to be recognised as people in this country that paved the way for us to have the freedoms and the life that we are given but the numbers are still a long way off."

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The four-time Dally M Medal winner and 2015 premiership-winning captain with North Queensland established the JT Academy before retiring three years ago to create and deliver Indigenous education, employment and well-being initiatives.

He said the JT Academy had recently begun working in the justice sector, which is massively over-represented by Indigenous youth, who comprise more than 50 per cent of detainees in juvenile detention centres.   

"Education and employment can change a person’s life and do even more than that - it can change the lives of a whole family," Thurston said.

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"My academy is doing some amazing things and we have had some really good success stories but as a nation we have still got a lot of work to do."

Thurston praised the current crop of Indigenous stars for their willingness to speak up on racism and other issues, like youth suicide and life expectancy.

South Sydney star Cody Walker has organised for Rabbitohs players to wear painted boots in Saturday’s match against Parramatta to raise awareness and funds for mental health and suicide prevention in Indigenous communities.

Rabbitohs team-mate Latrell Mitchell’s stand against racial abuse on social media has led to police charges, while Gold Coast lock Tyrone Peachey recently established the Peach Project to inspire young people in his hometown of Wellington, which has been rocked by a series of tragedies.

"Rugby league has given us a platform to be able to create social change and I know myself that my culture lies at the very core of who I am as a person and the values I have," Thurston said.

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"Players like Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr and others are at the forefront of creating social change for the next generation of our culture and the power of their voice and their presence can never be underestimated."

Meanwhile, Thurston said he was excited about the opportunity to re-unite with former Cowboys coach Paul Green in the Maroons Origin camp as assistant coach.

Thurston, who represented Queensland on 37 occasions and is the highest points scorer in Origin history, has previously been involved in 2019 under Kevin Walters but he will have much greater input this year.

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"Greeny has given me a much more hands-on role that entails a lot of things; obviously I will have a voice offensively and defensively, but he also wants me pass on all of my knowledge about Origin," Thurston said.

"It is about making sure the boys know what is required from them each and every day to perform at the highest level.

"We have got some really good leaders within the group but we have got some really young blokes as well so it is about making sure we get on as a team and are all on the same page offensively and defensively, so that when those big moments arrive they step up to the plate."

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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