The NRL Indigenous Round has kicked off for 2021 and fans can expect a lot more than deadly game-play to start their Reconciliation Week.

The NRL is using this week to highlight the gap that remains in education and employment and has launched a new campaign, Know the Numbers, which highlights:

  • The 25 per cent gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students completing high school
  • The 26 per cent gap in the employment rate of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population.

The NRL’s Indigenous Strategy General Manager Mark DeWeerd says it’s important to raise awareness about the level of disadvantage faced by many First Nations people in Australia.

“It’s about us generating conversations and trying to encourage people to look at the challenges we face as a nation because if we don’t get that First Nations piece right then we can never be reconciled as a nation,” he said.

“They are difficult conversations for us to have but if we don’t keep them at the forefront, then we lose sight of why we’re trying to do all these positive things.”

Fans can also expect to see Traditional Country names used for each of the teams. Read on to learn about the Indigenous Round jerseys and the stories behind them.

 

 

Broncos (Yuggera and Turrbal) v Storm (Wurundjeri) 

The Broncos’ jersey was designed by Elaine Chambers-Hegarty, who describes the jersey as having a football shape in the centre, representing the rugby league’s far-reaching ability to bring people together.

The jersey also celebrates the decade-long partnership with Deadly Choices, who are focused on better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Jordan Riki in the Broncos’ Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

The Storm’s jersey was designed by Krstel Petrevski; the art on the front panel is in the shape of the state of Victoria (turned sideways).

“The Circles represent the Queensland bubble from the 2020 season and AAMI Park and the people that play their part — players, staff, family and members. This all represents the journey home,” she said. 

“The circles are joined by lines which represent the many cultures that link together in making up the Melbourne Storm. A curved purple line represents the Yarra River and how it runs through the city of Melbourne.”

Nicho Hynes wearing the Storm’s Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

The footprints represent the journey that a player takes from joining and leaving the club while the handprint represents the five values of the club. 

“Melbourne Storm past and present Indigenous players are listed on the lower back, and the pattern on the lower right back panel represents all the other cultures to have represented the Storm to show inclusivity,” Petrevski said. 

 

Cowboys (Wulgurukaba) v Warriors (Aotearoa)

The Cowboys’ jersey was designed by Jesse James whose design was chosen from entries from the club’s 2020 design competition, entitled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dreamtime Unity.

James says his design represents the strong connections between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

(L-R) Javid Bowen, Jason Taumalolo and Jordan McLean in the Cowboys’ Indigenous jerseys. Photo supplied.

“My inspiration was my connection to my Aboriginal heritage and also wanting to represent both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to our Dreamtime stories, both united and walking in one direction together,” he said.

“I want to show people that when we all work together, understand our differences and walk together as one people, life becomes so much easier for everyone.” 

The Warriors jersey is a tribute to the Māori people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is designed in proud black, which is the colour of sporting glory in New Zealand. 

The design has traditional artwork flowing across the jersey, representing guardianship and protection. 

 

Wests Tigers (Dharawal and Eora) v Dragons (Dharawal and Yuin) 

The Tigers’ jersey was designed by Kamilaroi woman Breeanna Price, who went through the NRL School to Work Program. She won the design competition for the 2021 jersey. 

The meaning behind the Tigers’ Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

The Dragons had their jersey designed by Bundjalung man Johnny Robinson, who won their design competition, titled The Gathering. 

Robinson said it represents coming together as one on ancestral Dharawal land, which much of the Dragons’ catchment covers. 

Josh Kerr in the Dragons’ Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

“The central circle symbolises the Reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The gum leaves and white dots within the circle represent traditional smoking ceremonies,” he said. 

“The three circles together represent past, present and future Dragons players. The spiritual guide of Dharawal people, the humpback whale, is surrounded by red and white dots which represent its people and Dragons fans.”

 

Panthers (Dharug) v Bulldogs (Bidjigal/Bediagal)

The Panthers’ jersey was designed by Natasha Fordham in collaboration with Panthers Indigenous Welfare Officer Glen Liddiard.

“The front of the jersey features the meeting place of BlueBet Stadium on Dharug land, flanked by kangaroo and emu tracks, flying foxes (the male totem for the Dharug Nation), and the iconic Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains,” Fordham said.

“The setting sun creates an eye-catching silhouette to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land the Panthers community calls home today.

“The lower back of the jersey features the Dharug possum totem, with fire on one side and flood on the other, representing the natural forces that impact the landscape and community.”

The Bulldogs’ jersey was designed by Wiradjuri, Ngunnawal/Ngambri man, Cleveland McGhie, who is also a Bulldogs reserve grade player and artist.

The artwork incorporates three stages of everyday; the past, present and future. 

“The artwork as a whole reflects the Aboriginal history of the Dharug Country in which the Club is based,” he said.

“It ‘reflects’ on the history of the Club and shows respect to the Club’s past and present Indigenous players. The artwork pays ‘respect’ to the Indigenous people who paved the way for today’s generation of Indigenous leaders, people and communities.

“The artwork represents both the Indigenous community and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. It represents the ‘reckoning’ to come, the future of the Club and its local community.”

 

Rabbitohs (Gadigal) v Eels (Burramattagal) 

The Rabbitohs’ jersey was a collaboration between Uncle Joe Walker and Souths Cares program participants Imogen Grant, Mia Gregory, Tyreece Lyons, Melodey Roberts, Adrian Scanlon, Jayden Simms and Natalie Travato. 

“The designs on the front of the jersey depict the totems of the sand goanna and the whale which represents the Redfern and La Perouse areas respectively, highlighting the Countries on which the Rabbitohs live and work each day,” said the artists.

Braidon Burns, Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell, Alex Johnson, and Dane Gagai. Photo supplied.

The back of the jersey has the footprints of the seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players that represent the Rabbitohs’ top squad: Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell, Alex Johnston, Dane Gagai, Braidon Burns, Troy Dargan and Joshua Cook.

Pemulwuy is also represented having led a resistance against settlers and fought for his land in 1790, and along the sides of the jersey are the handprints of the Souths Cares designers. 

The Eels jersey has the Parramatta and Georges Rivers running through the main part of the jersey. The Parramatta River pays respect to the Dharug people, which was used by the Burramattagal people who are a clan of the Dharug.

Blake Ferguson wearing the Eels’ Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

The Georges River pays respect to Pemulwuy. Pemulwuy is a Darug word meaning earth/clay. He was well respected as a ‘clever man’ who fought for his people and his land. 

The aqua blue ‘U’ shapes that run along the river represent the players of the Parramatta Eels and the back of the jersey is about the Parramatta players.

 

Roosters (Gadigal) v Raiders (Ngunnawal) 

The Roosters chief designer of the Indigenous jersey is Jason Ridgeway, a proud Dunghutti man, who says his artwork took inspiration from both his family as well as his passion for the Tricolours.

Ridgeway said he brought together the Club’s heartland in Sydney’s eastern suburbs along with stability and protection of the moon as his main source of inspiration. 

“We’ve put in some meeting places, some walking tracks and the landscape in the middle, which is a big thing for me — it’s my headspace for artwork,” he said. 

Jason Ridgeway with the Roosters jersey. Photo supplied.

“I pretty much add in those landscapes in all of my artwork, it’s another coping mechanism, it’s a thinking place.

“With the moon, up in our area, we have a lot of different beliefs and stories that have happened during night time and it gives that sense of stability and protection.” 

The Raiders’ jersey was designed by Rayne Huddleston, a Ngandi and Nyiyaparli man, and is based on initial concepts from Justine Brown, a Ngunnawal woman from Queanbeyan High School.

Sebastian Kris, Ryan James, Jack Wighton, and Xavier Savage in the Raiders’ Indigenous jerseys. Photo supplied.

The design focuses on two totems. The wedge-tailed eagle (Mulleun) represents the Ngunnawal people and depicts the Ngunnawal Dreamtime story of Mulleun.

The goanna represents the people of the Wiradjuri nation and the goanna totem represents the Raiders’ broader regional connections and Jack Wighton’s mob.

 

Sharks (Gweagal) v Titans (Yugambeh) 

The Sharks’ concept and design were in collaboration with local Elder Aunty Deanna Schreiber and the Sharks’ Indigenous players. 

The jersey features blue and white dot work to represent the bubbles of the ocean and saltwater bays of the local region, where the Gweagal people of the Dharawal Nation, the Traditional Owners, inhabitants and caretakers of the land around Kurranulla (Cronulla) have lived for many thousands of years.

The handprints on the back of the jersey represent the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players on the Sharks team and their respective Nations, including Club captain Wade Graham (Bundjalung), Will Kennedy and Braydon Trindall (Kamilaroi), David Fifita and Jesse Ramien (Wiradjuri).

The large handprint on the front of the jersey symbolises the people of the Dharawal speaking Nation, the area where the team and community comes together and the Sharks proudly live, work and play.

The Titans’ jersey was a collaboration with artist Ashleigh Banks, the Club’s Indigenous players and Dynasty Sports international design team.

Brian Kelly, Jamal Fogarty, and David Fifita in the Titans’ Indigenous jerseys. Photo supplied.

“The artwork I have created represents the players as they walk proudly (footprints) onto the field for each and every Titans game, carrying their culture on their backs,” Banks said.

“The mixture of blues in this painting and stingrays represents the Torres Strait Islander players, and the sandy tones and emus representing the Aboriginal players with them both coming together in the middle to represent the Titans as one.”

 

Knights (Awabakal) v Manly Eagles (Gayamaygal & Garigal) 

The Knights’ jersey was designed by artist Tyler Smith, with Knights players Connor Watson, Edrick Lee and Gehamat Shibasaki also providing ideas and feedback for the final design. 

Smith also had the assistance of four young Indigenous detainees through his art program at Frank Baxter Youth Justice Centre.

The design of the jersey represents the local landscape of Newcastle, and incorporates the handprints of the three players (Watson, Lee and Shibasakias) as well as their totems. The totems within the design are the Goanna (Watson), Turtle (Shibasaki) and Saltwater Crocodile (Lee).

The players’ hands are imprinted on the back of the jersey over their totems, as an indication of their responsibility to protect that animal and carry on these traditions for future generations.

The Eagles’ jersey has been designed by artist, Lee Hampton, who also designed their 2019 and 2020 jerseys. 

The design tells the story of the earliest contact between Aboriginal people, the Eora (the local word meaning ‘people’) and the British people who arrived on the First Fleet in 1788 in Manly Cove.

Cade Cust wearing the Eagles’ Indigenous jersey. Photo supplied.

The jersey features ‘Middens’ which is the white section running along the base of the artwork. This represents a build-up of oyster and cockle shells, as well as animal bones and charcoal. These were commonly found around the coastline of the Manly area.

A sunrise with warriors, black lines leading into the sunrise, and large circles on the edges of the artwork represent the Gayamaygal people, and where they live. 

A Sea Eagle rising from the earth represents strength, and like the Gayamaygal people, they are confident hunters and precise with catching their prey.

The annual NRL Indigenous Round is on from May 27 – 30.

By Teisha Cloos