The Nambucca Valley has a proud history of producing talented Indigenous Rugby League players.
And while competing in the NRL and the State of Origin is seen as the pinnacle of a footy career, for many of our best players, it’s competing in the Koori Knockout (KO) that they’ll remember with fondness long after they’re able to make a 40 metre break through a six-pack of defenders.
For Nambucca Valley-born Stephen Blair, it’s been a dream of his for a while now to return home and gather the mob to play in the Knockout.
“I’m passionate about doing something back home. And I look at my daughters and think I’d like to see them play for the team one day,” he said.
“It used to be that there were two Valley teams – the Rams and one in Bowra. But for a while now we’ve had no representation in the Knockout at all.
“And that’s a shame because there’s a lot of talent in the Nambucca Valley. There’s too many players playing outside of their district chasing a #25 jersey when they are a starter in most teams.”
The KO runs over the September long weekend in Dubbo and the men’s competition usually attracts over 80 teams, while the women’s is a 24-team draw and the kids play in either a 16 or 12-team competition.
“And it’s a fierce comp – we play for sheep stations,” Stephen said.
The games are made up of 20 minute halves and there are 25 to a squad, meaning there’s not a lot of time on the field to shine.
“The reason a lot of people like Knockout footy is because it brings out the flamboyance – you go in hard trying to score points, and score them fast,” he said.
This year, with the help of his cousin, Greg Inglis, and other family members and friends, Stephen is getting a new club up: The Wall Street Warriors.
“We chose that name because Wall Street, in Macksville, used to have a lot of Indigenous families living in it a long time ago,” he said.
“And I’ve got lots of memories there – I’ve played on everyone’s front lawn on that street, I reckon.”
So far they’ve managed to recruit around 25 players for the KO in Dubbo, and 22 for the ‘warm-up’ tournament in Lismore which kicks off this weekend.
Word is, if the bunnies don’t get very far into their finals run this year (God forbid!), both Dane Gagai and GI will be up for playing with the Warriors too.
And the club’s already had quite a few sponsors come on board – even some Sydney businesses keen to support country footy – including Aboriginal Employment Strategies, CBeyond Coaching, Floor to Floor Carpets, Soulitude Health, Kooler Ice, Piggzy's Auto Salon and Community Transport Group, who are providing the bus up to the comp at the weekend.
The success of the launch dinner at Bonsers a fortnight ago gives the committee hope that this is not just going to be a flash in the pan.
Stephen hopes to build on numbers from here, and enter an U12s team next year, with 15s and 17s in future years.
“We will give them a club, a place in their own community to showcase their talents and the support to claim their own piece of the KO competitions,” he said.
And he reckons after a good showing in Lismore, the club might get some more local sponsorship too.
“I’ve been building on this since November last year. I think I’ve aged about ten years doing this, but it’s a big positive thing – it’s my hometown. I’m so passionate about it. And I can’t speak highly enough of the people and businesses who are helping us out,” he said.
“A special thanks to our sponsors, and Cellarbrations for donating a prize for lucky door at the launch dinner, and also to Alicia Parry for donating her time and giving her musical stylings for our dinner.”