When rugby league’s State of Origin continues in Sydney tonight, you’ll see some strong, proud and impressive Aboriginal athletes at the peak of their field. And I think it’s awesome.
Aboriginal players are big-time players, big-stage players. They love the hype, they love the atmosphere, they love playing on the big stage. History shows that. Steve Renouf used to do it and you had all your great Indigenous players in years beforehand. Now you’ve got Johnathan Thurston and you’ve got Andrew Fifita - the new age players comin through.
It means everything to our people and to our culture.
And even below the Origin players you’ve still got great Aboriginal players like James Roberts and other players that just love playin on the big stage, in big games.
To have these young men as role models for kids around Australia, it’s really important. It means everything to our people and to our culture. I’ve said it before and and I’ll say it again: rugby league gives our people hope of a better lifestyle, of a better life.
To get out of the communities. To get out of broken homes and broken relationships from broken communities. And I’m not only talkin football, I’m talking AFL - you give any kid a ball in general and nine times out of 10 you know you’re going to get these kids at a young age and the kids that take it with both hands are the ones that become successful and work hard at it. But rugby league gives our people hope of a better future, and it shows.
Back in the day when I was coming through we had one or two Aboriginal people. No you’ve got five in every team.
For anyone chasing their dreams, I think seeing the likes of JT, Jack Bird and Wade Graham takes a lot of fear out of these young boys and girls to show ’Well if they can do it, so can I. They’re Aboriginal, they come from similar circumstances to me, they get to travel the world and have a healthy lifestyle and earn good money and have a good lifestyle’.
I think it means everything to our people and to have role models such as these guys is unbelievable. Back in the day when I was coming through we had one or two Aboriginal people. No you’ve got five in every team.
But like most things, there’s hard work too. On the surface it may seem easy and great, but the easy part’s playing football. Behind the scenes, the hardest part is looking after your diet, looking after your health, staying injury free, training every day, training after the game.
Anyone wanting to achieve their dreams should be prepared for hard work, because nothing’s handed to you on a platter.
What we really see is just 10 per cent of the footballer. The other 90 per cent you don’t really see what happens behind the scenes or the sacrifices they make.
Anyone wanting to achieve their dreams should be prepared for hard work, because nothing’s handed to you on a platter. You gotta be prepared to learn. You gotta be preparing to listen. You’ve gotta be prepared to have the right attitude.
Sometimes you’ve got to also wait for your time to shine, and that could be due to someone else’s injury or pitfall, but as long as you’re behind the scenes preparing for yourself to get ready for that phone call or that tap on the shoulder.
And it’s not easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Tonight you’ll see the pinnacle of rugby league and people who have worked tirelessly to get to the top. I think what any aspiring young athlete can learn and take away, regardless of the result, is that one; how professional these guys are and two; how they put their body on the line to not only represent their state or the families but their culture as well.
We’re talking about Johnathan Thurston who is gonna be an Immortal; one of the greatest of all time.
And the way Fifita’s going, playing as a front-rower, if he keeps that up for the next couple of years, who’s to say he might not be an Immortal as well?
The thing that we can all take away is that one; we should be very proud of our brothers and sisters that are playing at this elite level, and two – just give ‘em the accolades that they deserve because tonight they’re gonna put on the fireworks.
It’s a great opportunity to shine and something that can be applied to any situation, whether you’re playing at the top level or in your local community.
Tonight, all the hype’s around Thurston and Billy Slater and Fifita, but tonight there might be a player in one of those two teams who hardly gets a mention but he’s out there doing the little one percenters. He might be the game changer, he might be the game winner.
My advice for anyone facing that pressure of achieving is to take it with both hands and to take it head on.
And that’s the beauty about Origin, it’s like a game of chess - making the right moves at the right time. If they come off, you’re in the history books forever and that’s the beauty about Origin: anyone tonight can have a great game out of the 34 players.
My advice for anyone facing that pressure of achieving is to take it with both hands and to take it head on. You look at your Michael Jordans and your LeBron James’s and all your great athletes around the world - they love pressure, that’s how they shine.
And we as Aboriginal people, we’re used to adversity. We’re used to being in a corner and coming out of the corner throwin punches. Cos we’ve grown up in a life of trauma. Some people experience trauma, but we’re born into a life of trauma, so we’re accustomed to it. So that’s why we shine in big games and big arenas.
I think it’s unbelievable how many Aboriginal role models there are today. It just goes to show how far we’ve come.
With so many young brothers and sisters now playing sports and a range of all different sports, we always used to look at the AFL and go ‘Wow, look at how many Aboriginal players are in a AFL team’. But now, the game of rugby league should hold their head high.
You look at every NRL team – we’ve got three or four players in every first grade side. It just shows you how far we’ve come forward. And for that to happen and these younger generations of kids to do it, it’s self-promotion for our people and our culture for the next generation to be bigger, faster and stronger and healthier.
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.