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First Nations people urged to take Rugby League roles

Former NRL 300-game official Gavin Badger is hoping the move to showcase an indigenous jersey for match officials to acknowledge the NSWRL’s inaugural First Nations Round will help attract more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the profession.

A proud Dhungutti man, Badger (above left) is also NSWRL Community Football Referees Development Officer.

He has been planning the design of the referees and touch judge jerseys for this weekend over the past three years. The initiative coincides with 2024 NAIDOC Week (7-12 July).

Inspiration came from the artwork that adorns a wall in the NSWRL Centre of Excellence, called ‘Walaaybaa’ or ‘Home Country’ painted by Daren Dunn in 2022. It shows the links between the NSWRL and First Nations culture.

“I based the jersey off our ‘Walaaybaa’ painting, so it has that connection but also is a bit of a difference from our Origin (training) men’s and women’s player jerseys,” Badger said.

He knows there is an untapped resource of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the community, who would make good referees.

“Our numbers don’t add up in officiating compared with playing, or other off-field roles like coaching, team management, strength and conditioning,” he said.

“We need to get indigenous people involved more in the game – refereeing is just one part of that.

“It’s something among indigenous people that we don’t tend to push towards roles, or positions of power or authority.

“So, it’s around breaking some of those stigmas as well.”

Badger this year set up an Indigenous Referees Academy with 35 referees from across the state now in that squad. He hopes 14 will be selected from that group at season’s end to be upskilled for the NSWRL Junior Representatives Competitions squad.

One First Nations referee, who was promoted to NSWRL’s Major Competitions squad in 2018, is proud Wiradjuri man Billy Greatbatch (above right).

“It means so much because I’m not just representing myself but my mob back home in Orange and I have strong ties with the people in Brewarrina,” he said.

He will be wearing the jersey in two games this weekend - Saturday’s Sydney Shield game between the Cabramatta Two Blues and Moorebank Rams, then Sunday’s Leagues Clubs Australia Ron Massey Cup match between Wentworthville Magpies and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

“Everyone is on board and heading in the same direction, wanting to get the same outcomes. It’s really important,” Greatbatch said.

Greatbatch is proud to be a walking advertisement for a career as a NSWRL game-day official.

“There are so many avenues throughout the game,” he said. “Referees are part of this big family of Rugby League.

“The theme of NAIDOC this year is being ‘Loud and Proud’. This jersey definitely says that. It has the input of us all trying to get to that end-goal of unity.”

Badger said he worked closely with NSWRL First Nations Programs Officer Kristian Heffernan to “create safe spaces for our people”.

“Having referees across all our competitions this weekend in these jerseys shows that our organisation – the NSWRL – embraces culture and is big on inclusion with everyone,” Badger said.

“That was the driving force behind me wanting to get this jersey up and running.

“The outreach will be big because we have games on TV in competitions like The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, Jersey Flegg, Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership.

“People will see them and hopefully take on board the meaning behind them.”

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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