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You are here: Home >> Developing Sport >> Indigenous Sport Program >> Programs & services >> National Indigenous Sport Development Program >> Rugby League

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National Indigenous Sport Development Program

Rugby league — A league of their own

Ricky Walford played league for 15 years, including 2(07) games for the St George Dragons between 1985 and 1996. Throughout his career he scored a whopping 990 points, and was picked for one State of Origin and two Country Origin games.

Now the Indigenous Development Manager at Australian Rugby League, the Walgett-born whiz is helping others to get a head-start in the game he loves so much.

‘Through the support of the Indigenous Sport Program, ATSIC and others, the Australian Rugby League is working to develop league in areas where there’s no infrastructure,’ he says. ‘We’re also working to sustain and increase growth in areas where the game is already established.’

That means helping to run community-based competitions in the Cape York region of far north Queensland and in the Barwon–Darling region of northwestern New South Wales.

These comps cater for junior through to senior players and encourage everyone to get behind the sport, no matter what their age, background or gender. After all, footy is about more than who’s running the ball. The game also needs Indigenous coaches, referees and administrators.

‘The idea is to use league as a way of addressing some of the serious problems that many communities face,’ says Ricky. ‘We’ve got to focus on further developing our youth and equipping them with the necessary “tools of life”.’

As part of the regional comps, gala weekends are held to allow all teams to play at one designated venue.

‘This encourages and promotes inter-community development, and further supports the maintenance and strengthening of our culture,’ he says.

Last year, first-grade players such as Albert Torrens, Dean Widders, Matthew Bowen, Ty Williams and Brenton Bowen dropped in to show their support, and Ricky expects a similar response this year.

‘Rugby league can be a great source of encouragement,’ he says. ‘If you’ve got something constructive to do and you enjoy doing it, chances are you’re not going to be doing something you shouldn’t. It’s all about maintaining our cultural identity through the development of healthy, team-based activities that involve the whole community and help raise our standard of living.’

Did you know?

  • Rugby league came into being after a split in the English game of rugby in 1895. Working-class clubs in the country’s north rebelled against the rich gentleman clubs of the south, who thought it vulgar to pay participants. But players from the north were mostly miners — if they didn’t get paid to be on the field, they couldn’t afford to be there at all. So the north went its own way, altering the rules slightly and reducing the game to 13-a-side. This soon became known as rugby league — a true working man’s game.
  • Rugby league was first played in Australia in 19(08), when rugby clubs in New South Wales adopted the rules of England’s ‘northern union’ game. South Sydney played the first game on 21 March, with a selection match of Possibles versus Probables for the coming season. The following month, eight clubs took part in the first round of the premiership: Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Glebe, Newtown, Newcastle, North Sydney, South Sydney and Western Suburbs. Cumberland debuted in the next round.
  • The first Indigenous player in league was George Green, who was with Eastern Suburbs between 1909 and 1911, and North Sydney from 1912 until 1922, except for a year with Newtown in 1917. He went on to coach Norths. Glen Crouch became the first Aboriginal footballer to tour overseas, playing 11 games for Queensland in a New Zealand tour in 1925.

Please check the Frequently asked Questions page for more information.
All enquiries on Indigenous Sport should be directed to the contacts listed.

Australian Sports Commission, Leverrier St, Bruce ACT 2617 PO Box 176, Belconnen ACT 2616 Telephone: +61 02 6214 1111 Facsimile: +61 02 6251 2680
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