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'Have to see it to be it': The push for more Indigenous coaches

As some of the game's top Indigenous coaches converged on Rotorua this week for the NRL Harvey Norman All Stars, evidence of the concept's value when it comes to developing coaches will be more visible than ever in the upcoming NRLW season.

Of the 10 head coaches who will lead teams in the expanded NRL Telstra Women's Premiership in 2023, six will be Indigenous, including the coach of the defending premiers, who will also be in charge of the men's Indigenous side that will play this Saturday, Newcastle's Ronald Griffiths. 

Dean Widders (Eels), Jamie Soward (Dragons), Scott Prince (Broncos), Ben Jeffries (Cowboys) and Darrin Borthwick (Raiders) are the other Indigenous head coaches involved. 

Widders tells that 60 percent representation figure is a testament to the pathway presented by the NRL Harvey Norman All Stars concept, with every one of those coaches having been involved with the Indigenous women's side at some point.  

"It's using this opportunity that we do have, and there are limited opportunities in the game to promote just Indigenous specific stuff, to promote that pathway and give experiences to our coaches," Widders says. 

"I feel proud now that they have that opportunity to come through and coach at that level.

"We are starting to utilise the male pathway better now with Ronnie Griffiths the coach and Matty Bowen and Cody Walker as assistants. 

Hopefully it will pay off the same way in the men's game that it has in the women's game.

Dean Widders

"But you have to see it to be it, which is why these appointments are so important."

Currently there are no head coaches or assistant coaches in the Telstra Premiership competition with Indigenous heritage, despite Indigenous players making up over 10 percent of the competition's player pool. 

Harvey Norman All Stars hit the paddock for gala day

Work is happening to try and change that though, with the NRL's Indigenous player engagement & wellbeing manager, Dean Feeney, recently helping Cronulla duo Nicho Hynes and Wade Graham, along with Walker, gain senior international club coach qualifications. 

In the case of Walker, he's following that up with a unique role in this weekend's clash with the Māori, in which he is dipping his toe into coaching while also playing in the halves. 

"We probably won’t know until the end of it how much Cody will get out of it, because it’s the first of its kind that I have been involved with," Griffiths said. 

"As a half, you’d talk at half-time and give advice and talk with the coach when they come off the field anyway. It’s a natural position (to tie in with coaching)."

Introducing the 2023 Indigenous All Stars coach

Widders meanwhile is at pains to share his belief that an increased presence of Indigenous coaches, and more cultural diversity in general, at NRL level can only be a good thing for clubs and the development of their players. 

It's a point backed up by current All Star Jasmine Peters, who said it can be especially important for players in the pathways system.  

"With Indigenous players we do get a bit homesick, so just them knowing and having been through the same thing, they understand how we feel and they can empathise and accommodate for how we're feeling," Peters says. 

“[Women's Indigenous coach Ben Jeffries] is very attentive. He observes a lot, he's very quiet, but he picks up on the little things, so that's what makes him a really good coach."

Like their male counterparts, the women's Indigenous squads has full Indigenous representation in coaching positions, with Jeffries assisted by Rebecca Young and Jessica Skinner.

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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