• Indigenous All Stars celebrate victory. (Getty Images)
Former rugby league player, Owen Craigie, says the NRL’s Indigenous round is an important celebration because Aboriginal players have changed the way rugby league is played and without them the game would be boring.
By
Owen Craigie

10 May 2017 - 12:05 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2017 - 12:05 PM

"Without Indigenous Australians, rugby league would be boring.

The game would be boring.

You almost can’t coach Aboriginal players cos they can do it all. They’ve got skill, they’ve got speed, they’ve got great anticipation of the game.

A prime example of that is young Latrell Mitchell. Someone like Latrell Mitchell, you can’t really coach. All you need to do is say ‘Here you go mate, here’s the football. Go and do your thing.'

You just need to support them and support them mentally off the field. Because the young Aboriginal kids, rugby league gives our people hope of a better life.

Aboriginal people have made a massive difference in the game. I suppose that what the players do away from playing footy, behind the scenes, is massive. And I know a lot of players, when they get free time they go back to communities or their own community and run coaching clinics and go and have a yarn to the community about trying to empower themselves and make changes in their life, to enhance their life.

"The Indigenous round is about celebrating all of these special contributions."

I think it’s important to have an Indigenous round because of all the social impacts that Aboriginal people face on a day-to-day basis.

And all the trouble Aboriginal people have faced over the years, from stolen generation to genocide, to everything. The social impacts are massive.

The beauty about the Indigenous round is recognising there are issues in the Aboriginal communities that need to be faced and through rugby league it’s a great way to highlight that so we can help close the gap.

And in terms of entertainment, there’s none better than Aboriginal players.

Look at some of the current veterans; Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston - they’ve changed the game. They’ve changed the way the game’s played.

But the beauty about rugby league is we just don’t know who the next Greg Inglis or Johnathan Thurston is going to be. So it’s exciting; even though we’ve got some superstars now, we’ve still got thousands of kids out there that are unrecognised and could be better.

Some of the highlights of my career include seeing just how far some Aboriginal payers have gone. Take Steve Renouf from the Broncos or Ricky Walford and now look at what they've done with Country Rugby League and the NRL. Also Dean Widders is another star - these players now are giving back to their communities and I think it’s great to see.

"For the first time, all 16 clubs will be wearing Indigenous jerseys."

The Indigenous round is about celebrating all of these special contributions.

I think the work the NRL is doing to recognise this is going well. It could be better, but at the same time, you’ve gotta look at where the game has come from from now, to 20 years ago, and I think they’ve done a great job.

And for the first time, all 16 clubs will be wearing Indigenous jerseys.

It’s very special and looking at one example, what I like about the Newcastle Knights is that Dane Gagai and Jaelen Feeney – one Aboriginal boy and one Torres Strait Islander boy – they’ve both designed the Newcastle Knights jumper for this week’s game against the Raiders.

It’s been great to see that, with those two guys playing with the club, it gives them ownership and it just goes to show that the club does respect their cultures and values. They show that by showcasing the artwork they’ve done on the jumpers.

I love what the clubs do in the Indigenous round now. In Newcastle they have the Aboriginal dancers, they’ve got an Elder to do Welcome to Country and someone there to do the toss.

I think what the clubs do now gives the Aboriginal community great ownership of that round and especially in Newcastle, you’ve got 22,000 Aboriginal people and representing four or five different nations. It’s a great way to celebrate it.

For the players, there’s a lot more opportunities now and players are recognised a lot more.

But I suppose that the support that’s given to these players coming through now, you have the under-20s rookie camps and you got access to so many different professions out there that can help you. From wanting to apply for a job outside of footy or personal empowerment or psychologists or a counsellor or whatever it may be – the game’s now got all those things in place for people to come through.

So much of it is positive and it’s great if we can keep going in the right direction.

Catch Owen Craigie on Over the Black Dot, Wednesday at 9.30pm on NITV Ch.34.

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