• The Bourke Warriors are one of the few teams at the Koori Knockout that begin and end each game with a prayer. (NITV)Source: NITV
The Bourke Warriors gear up for this weekend’s NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout attributing faith to its success.
Shahni Wellington

The Point
2 Oct 2019 - 2:35 PM  UPDATED 2 Oct 2019 - 2:35 PM

The Bourke Warriors will be hoping to go that extra mile this weekend, after coming up short in last year’s Koori Knockout.

The rugby league tournament will kick off on Friday with four day of celebrating Aboriginal talent, family and culture.

Thousands of people are expected to descend on Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast with each team hoping to represent their nations and bring home the win.

No more than the Bourke Warriors who will be picking up their momentum from a devastating semi-final loss against the Newcastle All Blacks.

A controversial penalty in the extra time thriller saw the Warriors go down 23-25.

The Newcastle All Blacks went on to win the tournament but the Warriors made their mark as a team to watch.

The Bourke Warriors will be looking for redemption this year and say they’re also playing for a higher purpose.

God on their side

NITV set out to find out a bit more about the team’s spiritual origins as part of The Point episode on religion.

The Bourke Warriors are known to pray before and after their games, asking for protection and good will.

Many Pacific Islander national teams also pay glory to God throughout their competitions, with Samoa and Fiji being well known for their angelic hymns and pre-game prayers.

Bourke player and Barkindji man, Mark Knight, says the side’s Christian values are a draw card.

“If there wouldn’t be ’Jesus is Lord’ on the back of our jerseys, I wouldn’t have anything to do with the Bourke Warriors and our players, they’re all for it."

“When we pray, the boys are in prayer with us,” Mark said.

Teammate and Dunghutti-Bundjalung man Luke Simpson echoed that sentiment.

“It’s powerful you know, it’s incredible to feel the spirit of the team when you’re bringing the presence of God.”

The small NSW town of Bourke sits 800km north-west of Sydney with 30 per cent of the population being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

It’s here that the Warriors gained their religious origins.

Robert Knight, a proud Barkindji man, played his first Koori Knockout in 1983.

Born and raised in Bourke, he has been a pastor for 20 years, and is the spiritual advisor to the team.

Mr Knight says players are seeing firsthand the power of prayer and belief in the Lord.

“Last year when we prayed, got in a huddle and prayed and we pray that God will protect them and that they got no injuries and stuff.”

“Some of them came away and said, you know not one of us has got an injury and not one of us is sore from the games that we played… it was amazing,” he said.

The Bourke Warriors have also introduced team standards in line with their beliefs.

“That’s one of the rules, no drinking, no smoking, no drugs and yeah, so they’ve accepted it. And that’s why we started to become successful.

“We’re making our way to the top,” Mr Knight said.

Cultural clash

While there is a strong Christian influence throughout the side, not every player is religious.

For many Indigenous people, religion can be tricky… with other notions of creation and spirituality sometimes clashing with traditional Aboriginal Dreaming and belief systems.

Heath Gibbs, Warriors player and proud Barkindji man says while he doesn’t share the same beliefs, he is proud to be a part of his local side.

“With me I think, you believe what you believe. And I think it’s very special to be a part of the God side of stuff but obviously, we do have our beliefs in our Indigenous culture and stuff like that – and that’s the stuff that I do believe in.

“But I think it’s very important that I do embrace what the Bourke Warriors are bringing into the team.”

Luke Simpson also respects players religious beliefs.

“Each to their own, I don’t discriminate on anyone who doesn’t believe in God,” he said.

“I really do love my culture and I believe in my culture as well, and I know how powerful my culture is, but you know my belief is God.”

Despite what you believe, there’s no doubt that the Bourke Warriors will be a force to be reckoned with at the knockout this weekend.

Watch The Point live at 8.30pm Wednesdays on NITV (Ch. 34) or catch up at SBS On Demand. Join the conversation on Twitter, #ThePoint.