It's great to be part of NITV's new rugby league show Over the Black Dot. This show’s gonna be unique, it’s gonna be different and we’re not promising the world to people and delivering an atlas. We’re talking rugby league. We’re talking raw, real footy.
Ahead of tonight's first show, I was asked what advice I'd give Aboriginal players in rugby league today.
My advice is: have fun. Keep having fun. When you’re not having fun, that’s when you start forcing yourself to training and playing. If you have fun and keep that balance in your lifestyle and hang around positive people in your life, you’re going to go a long way.
The most important advice I can say to people is make sure you keep having fun. When the fun dies, it’s game over.
Thankfully, there are some great Aboriginal players playing today and here is a look at who I think are some of the best.
Johnathan Thurston is your number one pick, hands down. His all-round game is just world-class. He’ll be an Immortal once he’s finished playing footy. JT from the Cowboys is 100 per cent the best Aboriginal player in the game.
Look at his leadership, his kicking game, his attacking style, the way he organises and communicates with the troops. He’s got it all and the guy weighs 80-something kilos. For such a small lad he puts his body on the line week in, week out. That’s for the Cowboys, that’s for Queensland and that’s for Australia. And the amount of points he puts on the board each week speaks for itself.
When you watch the NBA and you watch blokes like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, they want the ball in their hands to win the game. Johnathan Thurston is the same. When the game’s on the line, with a couple of seconds to go he dominates and he wants the ball to win the game. He’s a big-time player and I think he shines even more when the games are really tight and close because he’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat every time and he gets them over the line.
Dane Gagai’s played for Queensland and the last couple of years, every time he’s played for Queensland he’s scored a try. But just his club form alone for the Newcastle Knights, they’ve had the wooden spoon the last couple of years and this guy’s played representative football in a club that’s really battling and struggling at the bottom of the table.
Picture Dane Gagai with the Broncos or the Melbourne Storm or one of these teams in the top four. Imagine the sort of player that he would become with all these great players inside and out. He’s shining out now with a side that wins the wooden spoon.
It's Dane’s strength and footwork that’s his biggest asset in the game. For a little guy, he’s so fancy and steppy and agile and he’s so strong as well. People underestimate him, what he can really do and I think that’s where they come undone. The other thing about it, if Dane gets into space, he’s very fast as well.
Corey Norman’s really stamped his authority on the game, especially at Parramatta. It’s become one of those things there, if Corey Norman doesn’t play for Parra, Parra don’t win. The first couple of rounds this year, he’s absolutely carved the comp up.
What he’s done, is he’s turned his life upside down. And for a lot of people, not only in sport, but in your general population, it’s very hard to turn your life upside down so quick and move on and forget about it all. This kids gone out and done it in a matter of months. Has come back and just started his season like a whole new player.
He’s kicked the 40-20 off his left foot, I think in round one or round two. The way he takes the ball to the line and creates plays - he’s got the x-factor about him Corey Norman and I think this year, Parramatta’s success really falls on his shoulders. A bit like Newcastle Knights did with Andrew Johns.
Sam Thaiday is a natural born leader. Only two weeks ago when he scored that try, he ran off 50 metres on a kick chase and scored that try in the wet – I think it was against the Bulldogs. For someone at his age and at this time in his career, you think, ‘Well he can’t get any better than what he’s done previously’. But he just gets better and better every year. His leadership for the Broncos, no matter if he comes off the bench or he starts, is just unbelievable.
I think his personality and ability to have fun is probably a big part of his success so far. A lot of people take this sport way too serious. But it’s important to have that balance in your life where off the field you can joke, have a laugh and be the character. When you’re around these players 24-7, your need to have some sort of break and distance yourself. I think that’s what he’s learned to do over his professional career and hence why he’s played so long.
I think Latrell Mitchell’s one to watch for the Roosters, young Latrell. He’s just turned 19, he’s about 100kg and he’s six-foot tall. Latrell’s young, but it’s very important for Latrell that he keeps challenging in himself and doesn’t get complacent and think 'Well I’m successful, I’ve made it'. Once you get in that mindset you’ll end up like me, with a short career.
But I think if Latrell just keeps focusing on his game, keeps his head straight, keeps having fun – the most important thing is he keeps enjoying his footy and having fun - the kid will be a superstar.
A lot of clubs wouldn’t pick Bevan French because they’d probably say he’s too small, he’s too fragile, this and that and whatever; blah, blah, blah. But Parramatta’s given him an opportunity and he’s made it shine.
Bevan’s anticipation of the game is second to none. People go ‘Why aren’t you scoring a lot of tries?’ Well, he reminds me a lot of how Nathan Blacklock played, even though they are cousins, but the way he anticipates the game and reads the game is phenomenal.
Nine out of 10 players that get an opportunity, don’t really take it or see the opportunity in front of them. It’s that one per cent, Bevan’s in that one per cent of players that, he sees an opportunity and he’s made the most of it. They won the Nines last year, he was the highest try scorer. He's come in through injury last year at Parra and this year he’s started the season on fire: he’s setting up tries, he’s scoring tries and really backing himself, until he got injured.
Bevan’s got a bright future, he’s got a great future. He’s one of those players, regardless of what the score will be at the end of the game you just love watching him play.
Hear more from Owen Craigie as Over the Black Dot debuts on NITV on Wednesday, 12 April at 9.30pm.