The sun is shining, spring is in full swing and this year Newcastle hosted the 43rd annual Koori Rugby League Knockout.
Having won back to back titles, this years host team was the Newcastle Yowies. There was distinct whispers from communities far and wide wanting a change of location.
I haven’t competed in the Koori Knockout since 2000 and if I was not such a sucker for punishment I would have hung my boots up then and never got them back down.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about my passion for playing Rugby Union and how it contributed to the rebuilding of my mental strength since moving back to Sydney.
I haven’t played a game of Rugby League since 2009, when I played a season for Beachmere.
2014 was special for me, my eldest son was playing in his first Knockout for the Butucarbin Warriors. A better natural footballer than I ever was with bloodlines that connect him Amos Roberts, James Roberts, Tyrone Roberts and even Greg Inglis, he has the heart and determination to achieve at any level.
Jalu will remember his first knockout, like many young warriors before him. His inaugural carnival has left him with a story of war, with his first major injury, a broken ankle.
The Koori Knockout – like the Murri Knockout – is different to other footy. I have never played such fierce football, the passion of family and community pushes your body through the pain barrier like no other competition. In many ways it is tribal sporting warfare.
This year, some of my family and extended family put a side together. Bloodlines was the outside team that many thought would become extinct before even getting into the competition.
We were one of the last registered teams for the carnival, we were forced to compete just for the right enter the competition.
Our jerseys and shorts didn’t arrive in time and a last minute race around to find a full set saw us pulling on our tops with the whistle already blown at centre field.
A combination of men aged between 17 and 36, many of us sharing bloodlines and family connection. We were fighting for each other and maybe the dream that we were laying the foundations for the Cup and the carnival to make its way to Kempsey.
With some of the 67 teams fielding several current and previous NRL stars, the Bloodlines finished 12th overall. Just missing the quarter finals after bowing out to Griffith 3Ways, whose team featured both former and current NRL players Robbi John Simpson, and the Fafita brothers.
Continually growing is the women’s competition, which is arguably even tougher than the mens.
It’s the talent of the juniors that are the future stars.
It's more than just football, it is a time where old friends reacquaint themselves and families come together. It’s something that Blackfellas talk about for the other 361 days a year.
It’s the passion, it's the pain, it's the pride. It’s kids practicing the perfect chip and chase.
One of the most important things is the love, laughter and overall sense of community. It is a modern day Corroboree, where football - instead of dancing - kicks up the dust.
WAC – Walgett Aboriginal Community won the 2014 title, lead by the NRL cult hero George Rose, St George’s Joel Thompson and former Nth QLD star Rod Jennings. But all 30 players in that squad got the job done!
Sporting the ‘R’ showing their support for the Recognise campaign, a campaign and movement to change our constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution as the First Australians.
This win for WAC is also a win for the campaign as well.
Jalu said to me on the way home back up the highway, with a leg covered in plaster, ”that weekend was DEADLY! I am so glad we are Black.”