More than 30,000 people have flocked to the New South Wales Central Coast to attend one of the biggest events on the Indigenous calendar.
- Former and current NRL stars were among the tens of thousands who attended this year’s Koori Knockout in NSW
- For the first time a girls under-16 competition was run at the event, which is known for showcasing young talent
- The South Coast Black Cockatoos won the men’s competition and will host next year’s tournament
A prime place to glimpse the next generation of NRL stars, the Koori Knockout, hosted by last year’s winners, the Newcastle All Blacks, features some of the fastest, most exciting rugby league in the country.
But off the field there is almost as much action, enthusiasm and noise as family and friends from around the country catch up with one another and mingle with some league’s biggest names.
“It’s our modern-day corroboree and I love being a part of it,” South Sydney Rabbitohs and Indigenous All Stars captain Cody Walker said.
“It’s a celebration.
“It’s the most enjoyable part of the year.
“The Knockout’s a great opportunity to see family that you haven’t seen for long periods of time in a happy environment.”
The event was opened with a traditional ceremony, including a smoking ceremony and dancing, with the Indigenous flag brought in by parachute.
‘Eat your veggies,’ future stars told
High-profile Indigenous NRL players return every year to play alongside people from their hometowns and inspire younger members of the community.
This year retired NRL star Greg Inglis lined up for Macksville’s Wall Street Warriors.
Current stars Andrew Fifita and Josh Addo-Carr were also in attendance.
The league greats gave talks at the event for their youngest fans, with Walker advising the awe-struck children to “eat their vegetables”.
“I love getting out here and watching the young kids play,” he said.
“They’re our future and they’re the way forward.”
Girls light up
With more than 140 teams vying for bragging rights there was no shortage of passion or skills, but it is the women’s game that has seen the biggest growth.
Previously, the girls could only participate by playing in mixed teams, but this year marked the launch of the first ever under-16s girls competition.
“It’s fantastic they’ve introducing the under-16s girls side,” competitor Rikka Lamb said.
“It’s good to get girls started at a young age because there are a lots of development pathways now.”
Jenene Widders, 15, travelled from Armidale to be a part of the new competition.
“It’s really good we can all be a part of it together, especially since rugby league is a really strong thing in our Aboriginal culture,” she said
“We can watch our aunties play and then we get a turn with the under-16s.
“Now there’s a strong pathway for Aboriginal girls.”
Passing it forward
While some are making their debut at this year’s knockout, others have been coming for decades.
Elder Colin Ahoy travelled to the Knockout from Armidale with Jenine and the rest of the Narwan Eels.
“It’s great to see the young people because they are the future,” Mr Ahoy said.
“We’re in good hands, we’ve got a good future.”
The South Coast Black Cockatoos won the men’s competition over Griffith Three Ways United and are responsible for hosting next year’s event.
The Wellington Wedgetails triumphed over the Bellbrook Dunghutti Connection in the women’s competition.
In the inaugural under-16s girls competition, the Narwan Eels were knocked out of the grand final by the La Perouse Panthers.