It’s the opportunity many dream of but only few actually realise. For young Indigenous players Kareel Phillips and Rex Johnson, the dream of being called into training with an NRL club came true after being selected for the First Nations Goanna’s side to take on the Newcastle Knights.
Taking the place of the traditional All Stars match in 2014, the trial game will mark the culmination of a week-long celebration that will also feature the NRL Indigenous Players Cultural Camp, community and school visits, a community festival; matches between the NSW and QLD Indigenous women's teams and NSW and QLD U16 boys teams; and the annual Murri v Koori Interstate Challenge.
The First Nations Goannas were chosen from the immensely popular NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout and the QLD Murri Carnival and include Raiders' Holden Cup Team of the Year selection Brenko Lee, who played in both the Koori and National Youth Cup competitions this year.
The team was selected by Preston Campbell and David Peachey, with input from Daley, with eight players coming from NSW and eight from Queensland.
Goanna’s players spent all of last week getting a taste of what it takes to play professionally by training with NRL clubs in the lead-up to their match. For Johnson and Phillips, the experience of training with the Rabbitohs has been invaluable.
“It’s been great,” said a smiley Johnson.
“It was overwhelming to be picked and It’s been an awesome experience. Hopefully we can take back all the stuff we’ve learned to our clubs and be better for it.”
Asked about the divide between elite and non-elite sport, both players cited attention to miniscule details as being the main indicator.
“That level of professionalism, where all the little things count is incredible” said Kareel.
“It’s stuff that you just wouldn’t even think about, like what you had to eat in the morning, and how much water you’re drinking – even to how you recover. All of it helps and is taken seriously at this level.
“Watching all the boys going about their business, getting some tips and trying to work on our game has been great.”
Despite being the ‘new guys’ for a week, the boys enjoyed a warm welcome to Redfern that Johnson likened to family.
“All the boys welcomed us with open arms and treated us like a part of the family,” he said.
“They all made us feel very comfortable and were very encouraging with the way they tried to help us out.”
The day also bears special significance for Kareel, whose sister Lavina will play on the day for the NSW Indigenous Women’s Team against the QLD Indigenous Women’s Team.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs would like to congratulate both Rex and Kareel on their selection, their week at training with Souths and wish them all the best in their upcoming match.