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Cowboy Cotter's full circle moment as All Stars returns home

Ten years on from representing his Indigenous culture and his state as a rugby league junior, Reuben Cotter is hoping to be able to again share his family’s Torres Strait Islands traditions as part of next year’s NRL All Stars celebrations.

Next February, the showcase of Indigenous and Māori culture will be staged in Townsville, with the North Queensland Cowboys star keen to put his hand up to play in front of his home crowd.

Cotter featured the last time the matches were played in the city in 2021, but missed out on experiencing a lot of the community engagement which makes the week so special due to COVID protocols.

“If I am fortunate enough to play, it’s a great opportunity to showcase and to represent my culture and my family,” Cotter said.

“I played last time it was up here and it was a great week and an exciting time for Townsville, but it was a COVID year, so it was a bit quieter in terms of cultural experiences with the community.

“We did a few workshops as a team, but it will be different this time; there’s a few things on with fan engagement and community engagement.”

Reuben Cotter in action for the Indigenous All Stars in 2021.
Reuben Cotter in action for the Indigenous All Stars in 2021. ©Scott Davis / NRL Images

Cotter, whose family hails from Boigu Island and Darnley Island, said the first time he was selected in the Indigenous All Stars team, it was a special experience where he he got the opportunity to strengthen his knowledge of his family’s culture.

“I am always learning [about my culture],” Cotter said. “My first year, I was aware of my Indigenous background, but I didn't know too much, so it's definitely an opportunity to make a few phone calls and speak to my mum and grandmothers and aunties and uncles and learn a little bit about where I am from.

“I think it’s a great game in that sense for those who don't know too much and also for those that are well and truly connected to their culture. It's great to sit around and learn from others about their culture as well.”

A keen fisher, Cotter thought his love of the sea was an expression of his culture, with water holding has an important place in the Torres Strait Islands.

“Up in the Torres Strait, living off the water is a big part of the lifestyle there, so I reckon that’s where I got it from, my family’s love for the ocean,” Cotter said.

“Something I love about going spearfishing and going fishing is being able to bring a good feed home and bring it to relatives and family. I enjoy it, it’s great.”

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If Cotter – who returns to training next Thursday after extended time off after representing Australia at the Pacific Championships – does run out for next February’s match, it will also be a timely anniversary for the State of Origin star.

The Mackay-born forward represented the Queensland Murri Under 16 side at the Festival of Indigenous Rugby League held at Newcastle in 2014, an event which took the place of All Stars that year. The team had also taken part in an earlier tour of Papua New Guinea, in an “eye-opening” experience.

“I started playing rep footy around that time and we toured PNG, we spent a week over there and that was a great experience,” Cotter said.

“It was definitely an eye-opener for me, being pretty young … we did some village trips and gave away gear to the locals and they loved it, they love their footy over there in PNG. They were very grateful.

“That team was one of my first Queensland jerseys, it was pretty cool.”

The Queensland Under 16 Murri side of 2014 featuring a young Reuben Cotter.
The Queensland Under 16 Murri side of 2014 featuring a young Reuben Cotter. ©Queensland Murri Rugby League Facebook

Australian Rugby League commissioner Professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble woman of the Barrungam nation, said while it was “really important” for New Zealand to host All Stars earlier this year, as a Queenslander, she was happy to see the game return to Townsville.

“The Māori culture is a huge part of the of All Stars concept and I think it's important for the game to travel and give the opportunity for Māori people, especially in New Zealand, to attend the game and see the game,” Ms Davis said.

“It's quite a cultural spectacle and unless you go to one of these games, you don't quite understand what it's like; it's extraordinary. It was awesome in 2023 and it was really beautiful, Rotorua, and it was it was an extraordinary experience.

Indigenous All Stars representative Reuben Cotter with Tallisha Harden and Māori All Stars representative Shannon Mato in Townsville.
Indigenous All Stars representative Reuben Cotter with Tallisha Harden and Māori All Stars representative Shannon Mato in Townsville. ©Zain Mohammed / NRL Images

“Obviously for me as an Aboriginal commissioner, Townsville is a really important place because North Queensland is the richest footprint for First Nations in country, and it gives the opportunity for so many mob to come and watch the game, see the players and join in the week-long activities and community activities that we have.

“This is why the game is so important. That week-long showcase of culture – you don't really see that in in other sports and we have really lifted the bar in terms of recognition of that culture of Indigenous peoples who play our sport.

“All Stars fits neatly in the calendar now and it’s just so distinctive because of that cultural dimension to it, there is just no other game that does it like that.”

“It’s an exciting weekend of footy, with the touch in there as well, if you get in nice and early, you can watch a few good games of quality footy,” Cotter added.

“Last year, the men’s game was pretty tight and it's only getting more competitive, so it’ll be exciting.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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