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Seven of the Rabbitohs leading lights and brightest up-and-coming players will be heading to the Sunshine Coast for the first NRL Indigenous Players Camp, a concept developed in part by South Sydney stars Greg Inglis and Nathan Merritt.

Inglis and Merritt will be joined by team mates Nathan Peats, Dylan Farrell, Tyrone Phillips, Kyle Turner and Beau Champion at the camp.

Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen and Sam Thaiday combined forces with Inglis and Merritt to bring together almost all of the NRL players of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage next month at the inaugural NRL Indigenous Players Camp in Queensland.

The leadership and cultural awareness camp will be held on the eve of the 2013 Rugby League All Stars week of celebrations, on Friday 1 February and Saturday 2 February, and will involve more than 40 Indigenous players in the NRL.

Members of the Indigenous All Stars team will attend before going into a week-long camp for the fourth annual clash in Brisbane being played on Saturday 9 February.

Players will take part in sessions on culture, traditional language and dance, traditional hunting skills, along with discussions and sessions about current challenges facing Indigenous people in Australia.

The camp program has been developed by NRL Indigenous Players Welfare and Education Program Manager, and former Rabbitohs player, Dean Widders, in conjunction with the Indigenous Players Leadership Group, with the key focus on enabling players to develop a stronger connection with their Indigenous heritage, culture and history.

Presenters include ARL Commissioner Dr Chris Sarra, who heads Brisbanes Stronger Smarter Institute, which is committed to stronger smarter future for Indigenous students across Australia.

The Leadership Group, pioneered by former NRL star and All Stars founder Preston Campbell with the support of the NRL Welfare and Education Department, includes Campbell, Thurston, Inglis, Merritt, Bowen and Thaiday.

This camp will provide the opportunity for players to gain the skills and knowledge to help them in their football careers and club environments as well as help them to develop the tools to work with the next generation of players and their local community, Widders said.

It will hopefully provide a forum for our Indigenous players to work through the challenges that they face within Rugby League as well as help identify ways they can contribute to building and strengthening existing NRL club culture and systems.

We have young players coming through the NRL System and it is vital to ensure that they not only have a strong connection with their culture and heritage, but that we work together as a group to provide guidance and education as they make their way through their careers.

Thurston said: Connecting with my culture and heritage has had a big impact on my life on and off the field, so I am really excited to see this camp get off the ground.

I know it will make a difference to the players who attend when they return to their clubs, community and family and to the young Indigenous players coming through our ranks who look up to us as role models.

Inglis told Glenn Jackson from the Sydney Morning Herald: ''We've never really had a strong voice up until now.

But indigenous players within rugby league have a unique opportunity to showcase not only their ability on the field, but their ability off the field.

The thing that we're trying to achieve is to make this a first stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Next year, we might want to go to Darwin, or the back of Bourke, or the Blue Mountains.

It's about showcasing the ability of our culture, where we come from.

This is what we do; music, laughter, family.

This is what we're all about.

To read the full article from Saturdays Sydney Morning Herald, written by Glenn Jackson, please click here.

Indigenous players represented 35 per cent of the roster for the Kangaroos and 21 per cent of players at the 2012 State of Origin Series. A further eight per cent of the National Under 20s players are Indigenous Australians.

At the elite level of the game, 12 per cent of NRL players are Indigenous and across Australia, almost six per cent of all registered Rugby League players are Indigenous.
Acknowledgement of Country

South Sydney Rabbitohs respect and honour 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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