Having played against Jamal Fogarty and Adam Elliott on the All Stars stage in recent years, proud Maori Joseph Tapine can’t wait to run out alongside his fellow Raiders in the final game of Indigenous Round on Sunday.
Add Jack Wighton, Sebastian Kris and Xavier Savage to the mix and the Raiders have a five-strong contingent of Indigenous stars looking to do their heritage proud against the Eels.
“It’s been a big focus this week on playing for the Indigenous boys in our team and I’m looking forward to the emotion in the game,” said Tapine, who captained the Maori All Stars to a 16-10 win over the Indigenous All Stars in February.
“For me it’s all about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guys this weekend because we are playing in Australia on their land. It’s about recognising their cultures and their beliefs and how far they have come and how far we still have to go.”
Making the occasion even more special for Tapine will be the presence of wife Kirsten, a proud Indigenous woman who hails from northern NSW.
“Kirsten’s a Gamilaroi woman from up Goodooga way,” Tapine said. “We met eight years ago when I was playing lower grades in Newcastle, she made the move to Canberra with me, and I’m very lucky to have her in my corner.
“It’s pretty cool when I get to go out her way and she gets to come back to New Zealand and we learn about each other’s culture.
“She’s my biggest supporter – she even wears my Maori jersey at the All Stars game when we’re playing the Indigenous boys.”
Just as the jerseys worn in the All Stars game take pride of place in a player’s collection, so too the Raiders Indigenous Round jumper designed by Kayannie Denigan, a Luritja woman, through collaboration with the NRL’s School to Work Program and the University of Canberra.
The jersey features five totems on the sleeve and on the back of the run-out-tee - the lyre bird (Elliott), goanna (Wighton), emu (Elijah Anderson, Savage), wedgetail eagle (Fogarty) and the crocodile (Kris, Savage) – all symbolic of the cultures of members of the current playing group.
From premiership heroes Laurie Daley, Ken Nagas and John Ferguson through to 2019 Clive Churchill Medal winner Wighton, the Raiders boast a proud history of Indigenous stars and Tapine said a win over the Eels would be the perfect way to honour that heritage.
Connecting with Culture: Raiders embrace 2022 Indigenous Round
“Guys like Laurie and ‘Chicka’ [Ferguson] were such great players that it makes you really want to turn up for the occasion,” said Tapine.
“We got around Papa’s [Josh Papalii] 250th game last week and we’ll do the same again this week for the Indigenous boys.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play with Jack Wighton and against guys like Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston and they are such great players.
“They are such a proud culture and they have produced so many gun football players over the years.
The story of the Raiders 2022 Indigenous jersey
“I’m really looking forward to the pre-game ceremonies and taking it all in. Having been involved with the All Stars and that build-up, I know how powerful and moving it is.”
The Green Machine head into the GIO Stadium clash on a three-match winning streak which Tapine credits to “playing to our strengths”.
“We have to win that battle in the middle and the last few weeks we have done well by keeping the ball in there and then knowing when to shift,” he said.
“The battle with Junior [Paulo] and [Reagan] Campbell-Gillard this week will be huge.
“We’re expecting a big crowd and hopefully it’s a frosty afternoon for them. Opposition teams always moan after the game and say ‘how do you live down here?’ and that’s just how we like it.”