Friday, February 10, 2017
Community and culture. Connection. Respect.
The simplicity of the message was no less powerful as the symbolism. The messenger no less significant too; straight from the lips of one of the proudest and most prodigiously talented NRL players to ever lace on a boot of any colour, lands or creed.
For Kangaroos, Queensland and Cowboys (and one time Touch Football) star, Jonathan Thurston, a leader among his Harvey Norman All Stars' clan and Touch Football equivalents in Newcastle, this week is as important as those illustrious colours he proudly and regularly wears for club, country and the big 'Q' on the big stage through the regular season.
'JT' to his friends and foes, captured better than anyone the mood, the vibe, and that connection to the Harvey Norman Indigenous v World All Stars week featuring both codes and pathways. It was a reflective JT before his upcoming master-class display on Friday evening in a News Ltd (The Australian) piece to mark the start of this most culturally important week in Australian sport.
"This game means a lot to all the boys who play in it. We’re representing our culture and giving back to the game that gives us so much,” he said.
“The game is the showpiece but it’s what we do in the community throughout the week that makes it so special. These weeks have made me have a deeper connection with my heritage and made me feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.”
For the third year in succession the Australian Touch Football contingent have joined JT and his friends from near and far and been an integral part of the week through on and off field celebrations; and pivotal to the cultural celebration.This has afforded the best Touch Football talent on the planet the opportunity to wear their respective star spangled colours and reflect on their own connections to community and culture. To country. Nation.
Traversing the stadiums of Gold Coast, Brisbane and now Newcastle, the positioning of the six-a-side mixed format shifted to a new and lofty level in 2017. Game three of a close fought tri-series the curtain raiser to the main Rugby League fixture on Channel Nine, effectively kicking off the 2017 NRL premiership.
The spirit and significance of this week and event was not lost on two key Indigenous Touch Football figures who figured very prominently through the series and in their respective communities.
For Australian Men’s and Women’s representatives, Scott Bundy and Marikki Watego it is about so much more than what goes down inside the stripe.
"This tournament is a great opportunity for all the indigenous people to come out and showcase their skills, have a good performance in front of a big crowd, enjoy the game and have some fun. I'm representing my mob from Northern New South Wales and so proud of that fact,” Bundy said.
"The other All Stars team did their homework and put on a good performance. They brought in a new coach (Tony Trad) and a couple of new players. But we had a good team and a couple of new faces and all gelled together well - full credit to the All Stars guys on their win."
Try scorer for the Indigenous All Stars in game two, Watego was instrumental and sentimental about the week that was.
“I identify with the Yugambeh people of Beaudesert and they are who I am representing in this great event," she said.
"It's a great opportunity to be picked for this team. There are a lot of indigenous players that would love to have this opportunity, so we're very honoured to be picked and compete.
"It's great to see some young talent coming through and even more players to represent our people and our culture. We're really proud and lucky to have this opportunity.
And as always with matches of some significance, winners are grinners;- no bigger grin than on the face of Manly All Star, Danni Davis.
"I was really excited coming into this week and with the result.
"This is my first time playing and it's exciting to compete against the very good Indigenous team but also to play with the boys from the Australian Men’s side; they are the top team in the world and I really enjoyed mixing it with them.
"Our team looked sharp all week; we have girls and boys that are used to playing mixed, and a lot that aren’t, but I was confident that we would all do our jobs and come together against a great Indigenous team.
For the record, the games were typically of the highest level and intensity and fittingly finished in the very typical drop-off format to split the teams and spoils.
Game one went to type and down to the wire with the All Stars edging out the two time winners 7-6 in a four-on-four stoush at Wallsend Touch HQ. only a try to the mercurial Pete Norman separated the two combatants.
Game two in a reduced format and on the McDonald-Jones Stadium in Newcastle saw both teams' trade blows and go end to end, with Rebecca Mi Mi scoring for the indigenous team and followed by the game breaker in game one, Pete Norman.
A great ball right from Hennessey to Hayley Maddick pushed the All Stars team ahead and inched them closer to their historic first series victory with eight minutes on the clock remaining.
Two minutes left and 2-1 down, one last shot for the indigenous team went begging and with the clock winding down so too were the Indigenous team's chances.
Game three was effectively a dead rubber but with pride on the line and in front of the building stadium crowd, anything was possible.
Buoyed by their series win for the first time, the All Stars went up a gear but so too the indigenous side. In a see-sawing battle they both saved their best till last with an awesome spectacle and 4-all draw to close out the series.
At tournament end All Stars and Australian Men's Open captain, Nick Good channeled the great Thurston and offered his own thoughtful perspective from across the fence.
"The All Stars is such a great concept," Good said at the close of a great week.
"It allows the elite in the mens and womens to join on the one field and the opportunity to play with girls who you wouldn’t be able to play with usually, along with being able to recognise our history as a country and culture and celebrate that too.
"Irrespective of the result, as an All Stars team we are really proud of our (country's) indigenous culture as well as our other cultures, we have people from all over the world, so for us its also about recognising where our parents and families are from.
"And where we're all from."
Connection and respect. Unity.
To see all the action and behind the scenes images from the event, click here.