The Rugby League World Cup was always going to be big and it came out big. What a way to start this global tournament, with Australia’s team - the Kangaroos - performing an Acknowledgment of Country.
The greatest rugby league players on the globe went out there and did that as a sign of respect for Aboriginal people in this country. How can you not be proud of that?
You have a look at some of the resumes of these players; Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and a few of the other players - they’re immortals. They’ve opened a pathway, and showed the rest of the world through sport, to take a leaf out of our book, because we’re making social change for Aboriginal people.
A lot of these players are at an age where they probably don’t know much about Aboriginal culture. But now they can learn about the culture, understand the issues and problems that Aboriginal people face.
A lot of people are like, ‘Oh it’s a little bit insulting’. But at the end of the day it’s not insulting. A lot of these players are at an age where they probably don’t know much about Aboriginal culture. But now they can learn about the culture, understand the issues and problems that Aboriginal people face. Because the guys in and out of the squad like Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston; these guys that play with them are their brothers on the field and their brothers off the field. And they’re just showin' major respect to Aboriginal people all around the world.
I loved it. I love it what they did before the test against England. To see different cultures celebrate their cultures and once again through rugby league is great.
You can see the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) taking a leaf out of the NRL too. The ARU’s got an Aboriginal Wallabies jumper - this is the first time in 150 years the Wallabies have really done anything with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag, let alone the Aboriginal artwork.
For the Kangaroos, I think they should do the Acknowledgement all the time now. And what they can do is, wherever in Australia that they play a test match, they can incorporate the local tribes and the local elders from each area, come out there and be a part of it.
We’re making big steps. It’s not just about rugby league, it’s about what these non-Indigenous players, who are household names all around the world, are doing for Aboriginal people. We can all learn from that.
But for people that have come from strong cultures, we just don’t play rugby league; it’s our life, it’s like religion
What Australia can learn from it; I’ve heard Cooper Cronk and a few others say they’re disappointed about Andrew Fifita going back to play for Tonga, but at the end of the day, what they need to realise is, rugby league is - like I’ve said before - it’s something people love playing, but for people that have come from strong cultures, we just don’t play rugby league; it’s our life, it’s like religion.
Rugby league to Indigenous people all over the world, it becomes a religion and for Fifita to go back to play for Tonga and see the way his grandfather reacted, that means so much.
Because culturally, one of the best forwards in the world who has been representing Australia is going back to his heritage and to his culture. And it means so much to the country of Tonga and all these kids that wanna one day play football. So in hindsight, what Andrew Fifita’s now done, is made all these young kids, boys and girls, back in Tonga dream. Dream about a better life and a better future, because he’s come back and represented Tonga. And if he can do it, he’s showing them that anyone can do it.
I thought the Acknowledgement of Country the Kangaroos did was great. I thought it was great because my wife’s white and my kids are half-Aboriginal and half-white Australian, and to sit down and watch a game like that, you can educate your kids and your family and see how far this country has come in 200 years.
It’s through rugby league once again we shine and get to educate and show people how far we’ve come. And when you stop and think about it, you’ve got the greatest rugby league players of all time, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith, two Immortals, showing the way. One Aboriginal and one non-Aboriginal.
So at the end of the day, no matter what people say about it, the Australian Kangaroos team, have done a sort of war cry - a war dance. And the funny thing about it was that there weren’t many Aboriginal players in the team, which was even better. So they’ve gone out on their own bat and taken the lead again. And for Aboriginal people in this country, that is a massive, massive sign of respect, for Cameron Smith and the rest of these guys to go out and do what they’ve done.
Owen Craigie is a former NRL player and host of NITV's Over the Black Dot.