• Newcastle Yowies crowned champions of the Koori Knockout 2017. (Barbara McGrady)Source: Barbara McGrady
OPINION | If you get an opportunity to build your best team, you run with it, writes Owen Craigie.
By
Owen Craigie

26 Sep 2018 - 2:38 PM  UPDATED 26 Sep 2018 - 2:53 PM

It's good to be in Koori Knockout time again.

Kicking off this Friday, Dubbo will be hosting some of the best rugby league you can imagine. But as we know, this annual event is far more than just a footy match.

Not only do we get to showcase all our young athletes and represent our communities at a high level in rugby league, but it's a coming together of people. We get to celebrate our culture, meet up family, engage with each other and catch up with people we haven't seen in years. It's a modern day corroboree and one of the biggest cultural gatherings of Indigenous people on the globe.

Tens of thousands of people come to the event, and we end up injecting something like $5-6 million into the local economy over four days. 

Last year, Newcastle Yowies broke through against Griffith Three Ways in the men's comp and the Redfern All Blacks beat Dunghutti Jindas in the women's.

People play in the Knockout for a lot of different reasons; Some play to win the comp, others play just to be a part of the event, and for others, it's important to get to represent their tribes or their communities or their town.

People play in the Knockout for a lot of different reasons; Some play to win the comp, others play just to be a part of the event, and for others, it's important to get to represent their tribes or their communities or their town.

There’s a bit of chat about it not being fair that some teams are better than others, with players coming in from outside. People say things like, 'oh they're stacking sides and doing this and doing that'. Well, if you get an opportunity to build your best team, you run with it.

The Koori Knockout's become like a business. It's still unique in the sense that whoever wins it gets the rights to the tournament and hosts the event the following year, but to be viable and to keep the Knockout going, you need to inject dollars. A lot of teams can't afford to do it on their own, so you've got to have some sort of business model.

At the end of the day, no one from the Melbourne Storm is actually from the Melbourne Storm. While it might be a bit different, the success of the Knockout makes it much the same. 

However, out of 60 teams, realistically, about only 20 of them are actually at there to try and win it. The other 40 teams go for the social benefits, to engage and see family and friends and to be a part of one of the big cultural gathering and the experiences it provides. The teams that go there to win it are the teams that are taking good sides. 

That said, if the Knockout had did have restrictions where players could only play for their home community or their own mob, we would still see teams with a strong NRL side. For example, if I was to build a team 10 years ago for the Tingha Tigers, my hometown, just in my family alone would be, myself, Preston Campbell, Nathan Blacklock, Bevan French, PJ Ellis... What would happen then? Would people still whinge?

It's true. Some of these clubs are institutions, meaning these bigger organisations can do things in such a strong way.

People can strike gold and win the lotto. But as far as the Knockout's concerned, you need more than luck.

However the small teams; anything can happen too. People can strike gold and win the lotto. But as far as the Knockout's concerned, you need more than luck. You need to be professional, you need to have all your players, you need to have a squad of 30, you need to have everything organised. If you don't treat the Knockout like a business, you're not gonna be successful.

And unfortunately there are some smaller teams don't treat it like a business— which is fine, because a lot of the smaller teams aren't there to take the responsibility and the task of the Knockout. They're there to have a good time and catch up with everyone and be a part of it.

This year I'm coaching the Newcastle Emus, so keep your eyes out for us. The boys have been working hard behind the scenes and we're looking forward to it. We're going to be competitive this year.

Up in Newcastle, everyone's all family, but come footy time we all go for our own teams and it's quite fascinating. But at the end of the day we get to showcase and represent Newcastle on the biggest weekend of rugby league, and it's a similar thing for other teams right across the state.

This weekend is going to be a buffet of rugby league with the NRL Grand Final and then the Knockout, the women's grand final and everything else. What more do you want? Land rights?

Owen Craigie is a former NRL player, co-host of NITV's Over The Black Dot and coach of the Newcastle Emus. 

The 2018 Koori Knockout airs 9am Sunday and 9am Monday on NITV (Ch. 34). NITV will also broadcast live matches on Facebook from Friday to Monday.

The Koori Knockout men's draw will be broadcast via. Facebook Live 9pm tonight.