• Owen Craigie gives a reviews the past week in rugby (NITV)
Now is the time for a dedicated and independent arm of the Rugby League Players’ Association, focused on ensuring young Indigenous athletes aren’t left behind, says premiership-winning former player and Over the Black Dot co-host Owen Craigie.
By
Owen Craigie

Source:
Over the Black Dot
12 Jun 2018 - 2:18 PM  UPDATED 12 Jun 2018 - 2:18 PM

It’s time for an Indigenous Rugby League Players’ Association.

It’s not an idea to break away and just be wholly and solely on your own, it’s about working with the NRL, working with the current Players’ Association, but having an Indigenous section, because it’s going to be so valuable to help change these young kids’ lives who are coming through.

The big picture is all about overseeing and keeping these systems in place so that we don’t lose these Aboriginal kids to drugs, alcohol and domestic violence.

Every day you hear stories of a kid going to Melbourne or Penrith or some club in the city and he’s the next Greg Inglis. But after six months he’s threatening because there’s no cultural support in place for him.

They go home.

If you’ve got a cultural entity, a Players’ Association in the game, all those things with housing, employment and everything you need for your day-to-day living and management, it can all be looked after by that Indigenous section.

There’s not one Indigenous person employed at the Rugby League Players’ Association currently.

There’s not one Indigenous person employed at the Rugby League Players’ Association currently. So you need someone in there to deal with these cultural issues.

When you’re dealing with kids that’ve come from all over the country, even though we’re all Aboriginal, we all still come from different cultural backgrounds.

We’re all Aboriginal, yes, but every tribe is different with different dialects and different belief systems.

So you need someone in there that’s gonna be diverse, adaptable to constant change and be able to deal with different players from different Aboriginal backgrounds, right across the country.

At the moment they haven’t got that in the Rugby League Players’ Association. But I think that the Indigenous one, it’s not so much of a break away, it more to work along with the current system that’s in place and let’s get it right. Let’s try and enhance these young kids lives.

There’s that many Aboriginal kids who trial, and probably only about one in every 10 make it through to the main system.

It would be a great idea for the NRL to have an Indigenous Players’ Association, given the wonderful and lasting contribution Aboriginal players have made in the game.

The AFL, Michael O’Loughlin and Adam Goodes, they’ve had a discussion around a Players’ Association.

It would be a great idea for the NRL to have an Indigenous Players’ Association, given the wonderful and lasting contribution Aboriginal players have made in the game.

Also considering that now we’ve got a total of eight Indigenous boys playing on the Origin scene and the clubs are growing now and I think it’s be a great way to push for Aboriginal engagement officers to be at each club.

That way we can keep player managers and clubs on their toes when it comes to the Indigenous side of things. Like the significant money from the Indigenous All-Stars game that goes to each club.

The hardest thing that Aboriginal Players have is that they come out here with all the ability in the world but they last six-to-12 months and go home.

The hardest thing that Aboriginal Players have is that they come out here with all the ability in the world but they last six-to-12 months and go home. And if we can have those systems in place and overseen by an Indigenous Rugby League Players’ Association, I think it will keep these players in the game over a long period of time.

If you’ve got an Indigenous Players’ Association, they oversee all the things in the game that’s Indigenous. From player managers doing the right thing to clubs doing the right thing, to looking after their employees in the Aboriginal Engagement roles but also overseeing systems that are in place to try and keep these Aboriginal kids in the game a lot longer, instead of going home and becoming a statistic.

The AFL have seemingly got it right and I think that the NRL and the game should follow suit.

It’s a changing of the guard now.

It’ll be driven by current players, ex-players - they’ll all be advocates for it. If they choose to come across and help support the Indigenous boys, which I know they will, they're all passionate about their culture.

I think it’ll be a positive thing, there’s not one negative thing about it.

We’ve got a system in the game right now because it’s needed. Indigenous players are coming through this system and we want to keep them there so they can have a long career.

If they‘re struggling with their football, what is their Plan B? The Players’ Association can help them have systems in place for traineeships and jobs and so on. Instead of a shake of the hand and a pat on the back.

We’ve got to support these guys, and soon it’ll be the young girls playing professional rugby league too, mentally.

When you leave the game you don’t know where you fit in in society. Because it’s a big jump coming from a professional athlete coming back to the so-called norm. A lot of people never find and adjust to get back to the norm.

They live in this world where they think they’re still playing NRL and they develop addictions and issues and problems.

They live in this world where they think they’re still playing NRL and they develop addictions and issues and problems. But with an Indigenous Players’ Association, we can have systems in place where we can help them and steer them into and link them in with the right services that they need to maybe get a job, or family support or counselling.

I know now, if you have and Indigenous Players’ Association, I think it’ll holistically cover all things Indigenous in the game and will have a lot of drive behind it as well.

I think the best way forwards is getting the ex-Indigenous players and the current Indigenous players to have a pow-wow and sit down with the NRL and the current Rugby League Players’ Association and just see where we all fit in and how we can help change the lives of some of these Aboriginal kids.

If the clubs endorse it, first and foremost, and if the NRL endorse it, then the Indigenous players can all nominate who they want to be on there to advocate for them.

It’s a great idea and I think it’s the same way the Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin are going about it - let the players vote for it. Because at this point in time, right now with the changing of the guard, all the power is with the players.

I think we can’t wait any longer and it’s really important that something like this is spoken about and brought to life.