• Dean Widders steps in as NRLW Parramatta Eels head coach. (AAP)Source: AAP
OPINION: With an Anaiwan man coaching Parramatta's Women's team and a Gomeroi man a Wests Tigers assistant, it's only a matter of time before we see the second ever Aboriginal NRL coach, writes Jodan Perry.
Jodan Perry

17 Jun 2021 - 3:53 PM  UPDATED 17 Jun 2021 - 3:53 PM

At the end of 2018, Dean Widders put his dreams out into the world.

He took to his Twitter account to post a photo of himself training, accompanied by his desire to coach in the National Rugby League.

"It’s going to take an amazingly strong person to pull it off. I train to be that strong person." it read.

It's a feat only one First Nations person has achieved before. The late immortal Arthur Beetson broke the ground decades ago, coaching the Sydney Roosters and Cronulla, as well as Queensland and Australia.

His club coaching career finished in 1994, and for 27 years there hasn't been another of our people to hit that height.

Wiradjuri man Laurie Daley was in charge of New South Wales for 5 years but the State of Origin is a completely different beast to the grind of club coaching.

Approximately 12 per cent of current NRL players are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but for coaches in the system, there's only one.

Now Widders, who has worked extensively in the Women's game for years, takes another step closer to that level.

Make no mistake, he is completely focused on the new role and claiming the comp in the Eels' inaugural title tilt, and anyone that knows him knows his passion for the Women's game.

But he's aware of the bigger picture when it comes to our people and infiltrating the game at the coaching level.

"We're trying to break down the walls," he said.

"It is a lot of sacrifice and hard work to coach ... this appointment at the NRL Women's gives my dream a boost, Im' still just continuing to bide my time and learn and grow."

It's the deep knowledge of the game embedded within our people that Widders said is why we have to keep pushing into these spaces. When asked, he can only rattle off a couple names of others who are climbing the ranks.

"Take Cody Walker [Rabbitohs five eighth] for example, everyone knows how instinctive he is but he has worked his ass off to get where he is."

Off the top of his head he highlights that former Queensland and Australian International Scott Prince is currently coaching the Valley's Diehards Women's team in the Brisbane premiership, while Travis Touma is the High Performance Manager at the Roosters.

"People look at our natural talent and ability, but can overlook how hard we work, how dedicated we are and our discipline," he said.

'We are strategic about footy, tactical and can read the game.

"Take Cody Walker [Rabbitohs five eighth] for example, everyone knows how instinctive he is but he has worked his ass off to get where he is, he is so smart, he does research on the players he comes up against."

Widders agrees down the track Walker could even make a great NRL coach, but he wants to see someone else get there well before the Rabbitohs maestro gets any ideas.

Long days worth it

Gomeroi man Ron Griffiths has a name synonymous with the annual New South Wales Koori Knockout and is highly regarded in Newcastle Rugby League circles.

He is currently an assistant to Michael Maguire at the Wests Tigers and can be regularly seen on the match broadcasts sitting with him in the coaches box.

His commitment in order to get the job is impressive.

At first he volunteered to help out, travelling more than 300 kilometres a day from his home in the Maitland area to and from training in inner-Sydney.

While now in the official role, the commute is still the same. 

"The sacrifice is immense, particularly through the summer  ... you are generally up at three fifty and you don't get home until six at night, he told NITV's Over The Black Dot.

"The hours are long but it's something I have always wanted to do and my family are extremely supportive.

But according to Griffiths it's all worth it.

"The overarching thing for me is to fulfill a dream and become a first grade NRL coach but the other thing it provides for me is to provide a pathway for the next lot of people coming through," he said.

"That was something my dad was always big one and that's why it's extremely important for me to make the sacrifice."

It's been a toil for both men to get this far and there's still a way to go.

In previous years there hasn't been any of our people in the hunt for the top gig at an NRL club, now there's two.

Those odds are getting better, its only a matter of time.

Jodan Perry is the host of NITV's Rugby League programme Over The Black Dot which airs every Wednesday live at 835pm.

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