Why GI and Gagai embrace being Indigenous role models
As he helped to unveil the Indigenous jersey that South Sydney players will wear in Sunday’s match against St George Illawarra, Rabbitohs captain Greg Inglis was asked how regularly he embraces his Aboriginal heritage.
"Every time I wake up and every time I go to bed because that is who I am," Inglis replied.
The NRL's Indigenous stars are considered to be the group of players who take their responsibility as role models the most seriously and who also have the greatest impact within their communities.
Of the 50-plus Indigenous players across the 16 NRL clubs, none is bigger than Inglis.
"You have kids doing goannas after they score and things like that so I think it is great,'' teammate Dane Gagai said of Inglis's trademark try-scoring celebration.
Gagai grew up in a large Indigenous community in Mackay and knows first hand the influence NRL stars can have.
It's why he believes this weekend's Indigenous round and the NRL All Stars match are so important.
"I was one of those kids. Football was pretty much life for me," Gagai said.
"I absolutely loved rugby league growing up so to be playing it now is a massive honour and I just try to inspire and show kids there is a pathway and that you can be successful.
"I just go out there and try to play the best footy I can and be the best person I can, and hopefully that rubs off on someone. It doesn't weigh heavy on my shoulders, I enjoy it and I know all of the other boys do too."
Inglis said he was still developing as a role model and had adopted the attitude that he was representing the Indigenous community every time he took the field.
"I am representing not just South Sydney but my heritage as well," Inglis said.
"Each and every week you go out and represent your background, your family, your heritage and where you are from. This week is important because we are acknowledging the Indigenous players in our game."
He insisted that the racial abuse he received from a spectator at Penrith earlier this season did not add to the importance of the Indigenous round and said the support the NRL provided for Aboriginal player was significant.
"As an Indigenous player in this game, the support that we get is remarkable and the support from the NRL and the game itself has been tremendous," he said.
"That is what makes our game so unique because we celebrate every background and every heritage."
Both Inglis and Gagai said the Indigenous player camps held each pre-season before the NRL All Stars match had helped to make players more aware of their culture and history.
"With the Indigenous All Stars the best part of that week wasn't playing the actual game but the lead up to it," Gagai said.
"We learn about our history and culture, and it is something I recommend everyone do. It is good that the NRL recognises that."
Gagai added: "We do that every year, we try our best to get everyone together for the Indigenous player camp and we run it. We try to make sure we don't lose touch with our identity."
The pair were among seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players involved in the design of South Sydney's Indigenous Round jersey by artist Dennis Golding, along with Cody Walker, Alex Johnston, Kyle Turner, Braiden Burns and Tyrell Fuiamaono.
Predominantly charcoal, the jersey is covered in the outlines of the player's totems, with Inglis represented by a praying mantis and Gagai by a shovelnose shark.