TAAP: Off The Street, Onto The Field
To some, Rugby League is an escape to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For others, it’s a way to stay out of prison.
The NSWRL Talented Aboriginal Athlete Program (TAAP) has been in operation for more than 15 years, and it’s a way that not only identifies the plethora of skill in young Indigenous Australians, but also gives them an opportunity to strap on the boots and play at an advanced level.
Current NSW Blues players Josh Addo-Carr and James Roberts are success stories from this program, which has advanced so much that the Under-16s side have travelled overseas to play for the first time.
St George Illawarra Dragons legend Nathan Blacklock is a feature of the touring party to Tonga, and wishes a program like this was in place when he was a young boy from Tingha.
"Rugby League keeps these kids off the streets, out of gaol; it gives them something to look forward to and a reason to be a better person," Blacklock tells NSWRL.com.au.
"Established by 'Bear' (Steve) Hall, the NSW Rugby League Talented Aboriginal Athlete Program gives us an opportunity to keep the kids in their home towns, but also to let them know they're not forgotten about."
"The (TAAP) adds a bit of professionalism about these kids' development, they know they're in a system and they can follow in the footsteps of someone like an Addo-Carr or a James Roberts.”
The team left for Tonga on Wednesday as a result of the leading work in this space by NSWRL Indigenous and Community Programs Manager, Kristian Heffernan.
Blacklock hopes to share his experiences on the trip to guide the next generation of Indigenous talent in NSW.
"A trip like this is the first of its kind, a once in a lifetime opportunity for some of these kids to represent their people and NSW," Blacklock says.
"It's about more than just footy – we'll get out and see a bit of the country, participate in some cultural services... it's been a bit of an eye-opener for a few of these young players.
"Already we've seen some of the kids' attitudes shift, they're appreciating what they've got."
The likes of Addo-Carr, Roberts, Latrell Mitchell and Tyrone Peachey making their State of Origin debuts this year proves that there is more and more young Indigenous players finding their Rugby League talent and making a career out of footy.
Blacklock hopes to unearth the next generation of talent, particularly with those four superstars, amongst others, shining lights of inspiration to follow.
"I wish we had this program when I was a young fella coming through the ranks,” Blacklock says.
"A massive thank you to the NSW Rugby League for throwing their support behind the trip and the good work done by the Program."
The game with their Tongan counterparts will be live streamed on Saturday through the Tongan Rugby League Facebook page.