Twice a week, at six o’clock in the morning, 13-year old Leon Ebsworth waits out the front of his house for a lift to school for an early footy training, and then breakfast.
“I love playing football, I want to be a footy player when I grow up,” he said.
“I reckon I’m going to be another Anthony Milford!”
The Broncos fan wasn’t thrilled by the NRL grand final but appreciates Johnathan Thurston’s skill.
“He’s got the mind and the skills for it – like when there’s gaps, and he chip-chases and that for them,” he said.
Thurston delivers masterclasses in league tactics and skill, and Cyril Rioli hands out Australian rules lessons with flair and determination.
But the most important tutorial from the best players in the NRL and AFL deciders – as well as Broncos captain Justin Hodges – was to Indigenous youth.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jermaine Packer, director of the Clontarf Foundation at Mt Austin High School.
“That’s never happened before in the NRL having the two Indigenous captains, and also the Clive Churchill medallist and then you look at Cyril Rioli – it’s just been a massive weekend for Indigenous people all over Australia.”
Mt Austin is one of 68 Australian schools hosting a Clontarf Academy, which uses sport to encourage better school attendance.
In a little over a year, the program has more than doubled from 45 students to 94, and attendance has improved by seven percent.
Packer said 120 boys will be in the program next year.
“Basically it’s raising the self-esteem of the Indigenous boys to make them better in life and in society,” he said.
“It’s not just about sport, it’s not just about leadership, or wellbeing, it’s all aspects of life to hopefully have the prospects of going into a working career after school.”
Acknowledging Indigenous sporting talent isn’t new but proud and recognisable leaders are always important.
“You’ve got the boys in the community who don’t recognise anyone else except those types of athletes and those players – Greg Inglis is another one,” Packer said.
“They always talk about education being an important thing, and respecting people… so it’s not just about sport, it’s those leadership qualities that they have.”
As Packer points out that Rioli is a Clontarf graduate whose father is still involved, Bob Putland rates the early trainings at Mt Austin his favourite time of the week.
And Zack Kirby says he was “proud” to see Hodges and Thurston captain the NRL grand final teams, and the most important lesson he’s learnt about leadership is to “be respectful.”
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