Newly appointed Indigenous All Stars coach Ronald Griffiths has spoken of his immense excitement at being able to represent his people and his culture when the fifth instalment of the current All Stars concept travels to New Zealand for the first time in 2023.
Newcastle’s premiership-winning NRLW coach has taken over from the long-serving Laurie Daley, who stepped down from the role earlier in the year.
Griffiths will be supported by South Sydney five-eighth Cody Walker, as the Indigenous side attempt to snap a two-match losing streak and square the ledger at two apiece, having not tasted victory since 2019 against the Māori team.
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“I’m grateful and humbled for the opportunity,” he told the Knights’ media channel.
“In terms of personal achievements and accomplishments, there has been no bigger for me as a coach.
“Obviously, I’ve done some pretty special things, or things that were special to me but above all else, the magnitude of this is not lost on me.
“It’s a magnificent opportunity for me to represent my family and my culture.”
Both the men’s and the women’s matches will be hosted at Rotorua International Stadium in a move which is designed to further advance the growth of the contest which has surged in popularity in recent seasons.
“It’s a historic occasion and the first time the game has been played over there,” Griffiths said.
“It’s not just a one-week celebration of culture. It’s an opportunity to showcase the world’s oldest living culture in terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We do that through our song and dance, our connection and what we put out on the field.”
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The pre-season match has become a showpiece event on the rugby league calendar after it was first introduced over a decade ago. Since then, it has gone through a number of iterations but has always involved the Indigenous team.
“All Stars brings communities and culture together perhaps like no other week in our calendar,” NRL Chief Executive Andrew Abdo said at the time of the announcement.
“The 2023 All Stars game will coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the first Indigenous rugby league tour of New Zealand and will also be 50 years since Arthur Beetson became the first Indigenous athlete to captain Australia.”
Griffiths, a proud Gommeroi man, has been part of the Indigenous coaching set-up since being brought in by Daley.
The former Wests Tigers assistant has also recently worked with Brad Fittler at the joint NSWRL-KARI Foundation camp in Sydney, where some of the brightest young prospects in the country were provided with a chance to showcase their talent.
“I’m fortunate enough to know where I’m from and where my family is from,” Griffiths said.
“We can trace our lineage back to first contact. There are people who have been brought up who don’t have the cultural connection I’ve been blessed to have, so for me it’s something I’m extremely proud of.
“I get to represent our culture on arguably one of rugby league’s biggest stages.”
The coach acknowledged that while blessed to potentially be working with some of the game’s top talent including Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr for the All Stars match, it would be difficult to shape them on the field in such a short space of time.
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“The thing I’m looking forward to most is the cultural connection,” Griffiths noted.
“You walk away from those camps, and you’re culturally refreshed. You create relationships, bonds and connections that will last for the rest of your life.
“There is probably nothing I’m going to teach them about rugby league but getting them working towards a common goal and on the same page is something I’m really looking forward to doing.”