• The Indigenous All Stars team is a move in the right direction, but what about engaging Indigenous players on a one-on-one level? (AAP)
Former rugby league star Owen Craigie says with the contribution Aboriginal players have made to the game, every NRL club should have an Aboriginal Engagement Officer.
By
Owen Craigie

Source:
Over the Black Dot
9 Aug 2017 - 1:21 PM  UPDATED 9 Aug 2017 - 1:21 PM

Every NRL club does need an Aboriginal Engagement Officer. Every club needs it. It’s the right idea.

The NRL’s got the money now with the new TV deal, to get one of these ex-NRL players from each club to go out there to talk to and support these kids from the bush and to give them a better lifestyle and hope of a better future.

But with the contribution Aboriginal players have made to the game, it owes them this, 100 per cent.

And there’s no better way than to employ someone Aboriginal in your club to create these pathways for them. Otherwise, they’re just gonna keep losing kids going home.

They’ll be fretting and they’ll be homesick. Culturally, they haven’t got the supports there.

But with the contribution Aboriginal players have made to the game, it owes them this, 100 per cent.

The Indigenous All Stars is a great concept but a lot of clubs get money out of that, from the concept. So why don’t they put that into employing an Aboriginal Engagement Officer in each club?

If you want social change and you want social impacts, there’s the way to do it: employ someone in your club to give these kids the cultural support they need when you bring them down here.

If you look at the Knights for instance, imagine if they had a Timana Tahu there as an Aboriginal engagement officer.

Now to have one of these legends there to support you through your journey, for a small outlay – invest in community and you get it back in tenfold.

You go to the Roosters, imagine if they had an Andrew Walker there as an Aboriginal engagement officer.

You go to the Rabbitohs, imagine if they had Nathan Merritt as an Aboriginal Engagement Officer.

You’re looking at social impact here. All these kids aspire to be rugby league players. Now to have one of these legends there to support you through your journey, for a small outlay – invest in community and you get it back in tenfold.

Another example of investing in the community is what’s happening at Newcastle Knights now.

The takeover is a done deal. Phil Gardner and the Wests Group are gonna take over the Knights which I think is a great thing.

The vote of ‘yes’ was from almost 93 per cent of almost 14,000 members. So that just goes to show how important the Knights is to the community as well.

What it says from the community point of view is that they want success again, they want the crowds back, they want Knights to be on a high again.

And the centre of excellence they’re investing in is a great thing.

First and foremost, what that will do is actually get the Knights back engaged with the community.

The clubs have to be engaging with the community.

Because rugby league’s become a business over the last 10, 15 years it’s really isolated themselves from community. Having a centre of excellence there will actually get them back engaging with the community and the grassroots level and doing that was a big part of the Knights success in the 90s and early 2000s, cause they were a community team, they were engaging with the community and going to schools. Then they went away from that.

So maybe the centre of excellence is going to put them in a good direction and come back and engage with the community.

We’re Aussies, we’re battlers. And rugby league gives a lot of people hope.

Which is a must. The clubs have to be engaging with the community.

Without the people, there is no competition. And I know they’ve tried to create it like a mega-business with the NRL and that but we just haven’t got the people like America and Asia do.

We’re Aussies, we’re battlers. And rugby league gives a lot of people hope. That they come from broken families or communities and gives them some sort of future there for them if they choose to have it there. Rugby league caters for that category of people, the battlers.

The game’s lost touch with community, the last 10 or 15 years, purely because of social media and how much money’s been poured into the game.

If the centre of excellence and re-engaging with community works in Newcastle, I guess it should work everywhere else.

The Knights know how important it is to have community support. Phil Gardner’s a smart man by investing and building a centre of excellence up here. Investing in the community, the community will give back tenfold.

The fans are so important and in some respects they’re feeling the love and others they aren’t.

I think if you’re a Parramatta supporter it’s a massive sign of love there. The head coach of your local team’s telling your bosses to let them leave early to attend a game of footy this Friday. Certain clubs do certain things really, really well. Better than other clubs.

All the clubs do all of their different engagement strategies all differently.

The Rabbitohs have got one and they’ve been successful, won the comp.

But for Newcastle, because you’ve got such a big wider area around the club, they have got a lot of supporters, but I think it’s a wonderful thing having the centre of excellence and a great initiative shown by the Wests Group and Phil Gardner.

The Rabbitohs have got one and they’ve been successful, won the comp.

Penrith have got one out there as well. Gus Gould, these clubs with big breeding grounds, know that if you invest back in the community you’ll get it back tenfold.

To hear more from Owen Craigie and for all of your rugby league news, tune in to Over the Black Dot on NITV at 9.30pm each Wednesday, or On Demand.