Karl Adams is determined to show the Townsville community that rugby league is so much more than just a game.
In his first year as chairman at Townsville’s Norths Devils senior rugby league, Adams has a vision – a vision for change, for inclusivity, for encouraging mental and physical wellbeing, for celebrating diversity, and for being a club that is a concrete part of its community.
A former game development officer with the NRL, Adams has been with Norths for three years, previously coaching the A grade side.
However, it is in his new role where he believes he can make the greatest impact.
“I want to have more community input and be able to provide a better service to the community from the club,” Adams said ahead of the Queensland Rugby League’s Respect Round this coming weekend.
“People have different views and misconceptions on the game and on certain clubs and stuff like that.
“But if we’re seen to be trying to provide things outside of rugby league within the community and using rugby league to capture everyone and get everyone involved, I think that will be a great thing, not only for Norths as a club, but the whole area.”
Adams grew up in the remote community of Weipa and worked as the game development officer for the Cape York and Torres Strait Islands areas, as well as running his own rugby league club in Weipa.
At the end of 2019 he moved to Townsville and took on the role of Norths coach, as well as becoming a career transition officer for the NRL Cowboys House.
He said it was this long history of working in rugby league, particularly in the northern communities, that had motivated him to make what change he could through his chairman duties at Norths.
“Working closely in community, you can see the social issues and concerns firsthand,” Adams said.
“Just being up there and working closely with everyone made me realise that if there’s any help we could provide, it’s definitely appreciated.
“A lot of these places only have specialists fly in once a month … that’s any type of programs or anyone who has the know-how.
“So that’s where my passion around it all comes from, is those personal experiences up in the Cape. At one point for example I had to get State of Mind on board because in the space of two months there were six suicides.
“Up in the Cape, what I started to do was address social concerns in communities through rugby league so I’m trying to extend that down here.
“I created conversations with different networks and ended up doing a weeklong event of different forums where I got specialists in to provide some information for community.
“Being a coach for quite some time as well, you become a father figure to a lot of people that are dealing with different issues so you do pick up these things or different ways to guide them to seek help and advice.
“We can use the game as a vehicle. It’s something I am passionate about and something we can do. I’ve always been involved. It’s just what I do. It’s second nature for me now.”
Adams, who is also part of the QRL’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and the Support Squad, has particularly focused on making Norths a club that embraces wellbeing and reconciliation with their players and volunteers, with his work to unify the Devils noticed from outsiders.
In April, he introduced a wellbeing week.
The club held wellbeing sessions with all their teams and then hosted a wellbeing dinner, with former North Queensland Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein coming on board as a guest speaker.
Adams, who did wellbeing training with QRL South East wellbeing operations manager Dayne Weston, said the week had the desired outcome, with players across the club now more open to sharing how they feel.
“The main thing we wanted to get out of it was people recognising what type of stressors they have and how they cope with it,” Adams said.
“We had pretty honest sessions… it was about getting everyone comfortable in having those tough conversations. The floor really opened up and I can see from a few of the sessions we have done the playing group’s really starting to get along a lot better.
“In those situations where people open up and are a little bit vulnerable in some aspect, we get to see a different side to them and people can connect in different ways through that.
“On the Friday evening we also had a wellbeing dinner with Antonio Winterstein as a guest speaker, and he shared his story, his highs and lows of rugby league.
“The biggest one that hit home for everyone was him trying to deal with all his stuff in his personal life while playing at the highest level and trying to be this role model for everyone else.
“It was really good to hear that story. Every single person that walked into that room left feeling a lot better.
“I don’t push people to start talking but over the weeks since it’s been, different people have come up and said it’s really good and they can relate to a story they heard or it has started a conversation for them with a loved one… it’s definitely starting those conversations.”
Adams’ next focus will be a National Reconciliation Week event, which will be centred on sharing culture. Norths will host Burdekin Roosters on Saturday, May 28, which is the start of Reconciliation Week.
Local Indigenous businesses set to take part include Make Me Creations, Bina's Kitchen, BRACKS Indigenous Clothing and Brothas Entertainment.
“We’re going to have a local entertainer who will come and do music,” Adams said of the event.
“I’m also employed at the Cowboys House and we’ve got 100 or so Indigenous students here who have their own dance troupes. They’re going to come out and perform. There will be a few other local Indigenous businesses that will come down as well, with some Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous cooking.
“It will be based around sharing culture more than anything. That will be the message on the night.
“Everything we’re trying to do… it’s exciting. Everyone’s sort of open to it because it’s stuff that hasn’t happened before.
“Some people are a little bit uncertain about it as well but once they do attend the events, the programs and wellbeing sessions, they’re the ones that come back and say, ‘this needs to happen more’ and ‘why didn’t we do this years go?’.
“It’s about trying to drive stuff that I can see will benefit the whole community.”
If you or someone you know is in need of immediate crisis or suicide prevention support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.