Graham's Journey of Discovery
Respect for the Indigenous All Stars jersey that he will wear with great pride on Saturday night led Sharks back-rower Wade Graham to turn down the opportunity to play in last year's game until he understood more about his Indigenous heritage.
With a number of withdrawals to last year's Indigenous team a casual conversation between VB Blues coach Laurie Daley and captain Paul Gallen saw Graham's name thrown into the mix but the 25-year-old declined the invitation.
Instead he began a journey of self discovery that still has more questions than answers and 12 months on he is armed with enough knowledge to stand proudly alongside his Indigenous teammates.
"'Loz' gave me a call and I told him the story and I said that I'd rather do it the right way, not just rock up for a game of footy," Graham told NRL.com of his decision not to play in the 2015 All Stars game.
"I said I'd rather go back, have a look through it all and have some understanding.
"This year I was determined, even if I wasn't playing the game, I still would have gone to that [leadership] camp and experienced a few things.
"I'm just lucky enough now that I get to play in the game too which I'm pretty pumped for.
"My old man moved down from Grafton at a young age and then he never really got back. His old man passed away when he was quite young and that's where the connection is so we never really looked into it.
"I got Dean Widders and Mark deWeerd down at the end of the year and we just had a chat and I told them my story and they researched my line and on my great grandmother's side they sorted it all out.
"Growing up I had my family and that's who I was with and I had my friends and it was more a case that when you don't have something you don't know you're missing it.
"It's good for me where I am now. I'm not a young kid anymore and it's good to be able to reconnect and have a look back and see where it all comes from."
Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley remembers the phone call to Graham well and is pleased to now see him amongst the group and learning about his family history.
"He felt that he wanted find out a little bit more about his heritage and open his eyes up a little bit more instead of rushing it," Daley recalled.
"The last 12 months he's learned a lot more and identified himself which is good.
"You can't change who you are and you've got to be proud of who you are and you've got to understand and know a little bit about yourself and your family and that's what this week is all about and what the leadership camp is about on the weekend.
"They're very proud and they want to represent and play in this group and that's a great sign."
As part of his journey of discovery Graham attended the Indigenous leadership camp at North Stradbroke Island over the weekend where players joined with members of the community to participate in traditional dance.
It was an eye-opening experience for a kid born in Blacktown in Sydney's west but one that he will be forever grateful to the All Stars concept for providing.
"The Sunday night and Monday over at Stradbroke Island, I was really determined to go there with my eyes and ears open and soak in as much as I could," Graham said.
"I was fortunate enough to be there with guys that I knew already like Joel Thompson and Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai so it was good for me just to be there and soak it in as much as I could.
"If you grow up not having a hot shower then you never know you're missing a hot shower but then when you have that hot shower then you realise that there is a lot missing.
"Just being there and listening and learning, it was such a good experience. The opportunity that this week provided... It might have been something that I went my whole life without even looking at.
"Except for a game of footy and where it's got to, it allowed me this opportunity to have a look at a few things and that's pretty much where it all began.
"I'm still coming to terms with it, it's a process for me and a journey and it's just something for me. It's not for anyone else so it's good."
The Indigenous All Stars meet the World All Stars in the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars clash at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, 13 February. Some seats are still available – details at NRL.com/tickets.
This article first appeared on NRL.com