The Festival of Indigenous Rugby League is set to take over Newcastle in February, with the week-long event culminating in a colossal clash between the First Nations Goannas and the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium.
Former NRL star and current CEO at Newcastle Knights Matt Gidley, says that the proud Aboriginal community is thrilled to be hosting the festival.
“We’ve got a really proud Indigenous community in Newcastle and we’ve had a lot of wonderful Indigenous players come through our club, so we thought it was a great opportunity to stage the event here,” he says.
“It’s a real rugby league heartland, so we’re excited about staging not only the game but the community events in the lead up to the game as well.”
The Knights’ competition, The First Nation Goanna’s, consists of a selection of 16 of the country’s most talented ‘non elite’ Indigenous players who caught the eye of selectors at the NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout and the QLD Murri Carnival. This game will provide them with the chance to not only experience the commitment needed to play professional football but may open doors to a career as well.
“It will give them the opportunity to play against an NRL club. The players will also have an opportunity to go and train with NRL clubs in the lead up to this match. They’ll get an opportunity to see how an NRL team trains throughout the course of the week and work under different coaches,” explains Matt.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for these non-elite players to come and test themselves against NRL players and hopefully they’ll get the opportunity to maybe secure a contract with an NRL club down the track.
“All these games are videoed, so I’m sure there will be opportunities for NRL clubs to look at the game and particularly individuals in the game if they see someone they like.”
As well as putting on an entertaining spectacle for what is sure to be a massive crowd, Matt says that the game’s ultimate objective is to celebrate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent that is abundant throughout the League.
“It’s to involve Indigenous people in our game and acknowledge the huge role they play. You’ve only got to look through the NRL to see so many wonderful Indigenous players at the top end so we’re going to celebrate that throughout the course of the week,” he says.
The match day (8 February) will also feature matches between the Queensland Indigenous Women and NSW Indigenous Women’s sides and the Queensland Indigenous U16 and NSW Indigenous U16 sides, prior to the main game.
Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.