Members of the Clontarf Foundation’s Katherine academy toured the NSWRL Centre of Excellence today as part of their time in Sydney to play in the annual 2023 Tag Day.
The academy for indigenous youth encourages the teenagers to attend high school as they pursue their interest in sport, education and employment. It began in Western Australia in 2000 but now there are 148 academies nationwide integrated into schools.
Five students from Katherine were paired with four NRL legends – former Parramatta-South Sydney backrower Dean Widders; Canterbury-Bankstown premiership winners Andrew Ryan and Reni Maitua; and Eastern Suburbs and Bulldogs fullback Rod ‘Rocket’ Silva - in the Tag Day competition.
There were 18 teams in all with the Clontarf academies teamed with a corporate partner, including Ampol, Qantas, Woolworths, Deutsche Bank, Fox Sports and the NSWRL. Matches, Semi-finals and a Grand Final were played at Easts Rugby Club in Rose Bay.
Westpac NSW Blues skipper James Tedesco and Sky Blues winger Tiana Penitani played in the Fox Sports teams.
“It’s my first time in Sydney – first time in leaving the Northern Territory and going out to any of the big cities,” Jeremy Johnson told nswrl.com.au.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me. My dad (Jonas) lives and breathes Rugby League.
“He spent a lot of time on the east coast going between Queensland and NSW for work and playing.
“He’s very proud right now and told me he never got to do anything like this.
“It’s also big for the Clontarf Academy to partner with people like Fox Sports and NSW Rugby League.
“It gives us all a real sense of being part of something really significant.”
Maitua recently returned from playing games with other former NRL players, and indigenous communities from places including Kowanyama and Cooktown, for the Arthur Beetson Foundation in Cape York.
“We all want the best opportunities for these people in remote areas,” Maitua told nswrl.com.au
“So, to be able to come to Sydney and see the city life and play alongside former NRL players is exciting for these kids.
“It also exposes them to what it might be like if they came down here to study, to work, or to play sport.
“It’s a great opportunity to involve indigenous kids and give them new experiences.
“At the same time, it helps kids re-connect with their indigenous culture. They can be proud of it and learn more about it.
“I’m half Samoan and I felt a disconnect with my Polynesian community when I was younger. And I feel some of the indigenous kids might feel that.
“But you can get it back and that’s the conversation I have with indigenous kids whether I meet them in metropolitan areas or more remote places.
“I tell them to get in touch with their culture, which is beautiful and has been around for thousands of years. It’s so worthwhile and helps you become a better human as you grow up.”