Once a reluctant role model, Inglis now wears heart on his sleeve

This is the very image of the NRL's Indigenous Round: A proud Greg Inglis, elevated by his sport, ready to give back not just to the game that made him but the people and culture he represents.

True colours: Greg Inglis poses against an Aboriginal flag in Redfern for the NRL's Indigenous round.

Photo: NRL Imagery

Inglis stands in front of an Aboriginal flag mural in Redfern, arms stretched out across the blazing yellow sun, almost in defiance. Earlier this season, he was racially abused at a game in Penrith. Now, he challenges every rugby league fan to see racism banished from the game forever.

The Rabbitohs centre, a champion for Queensland and Australia, was never a natural candidate to be an outspoken icon for his people. An unstoppable force on the field at his best, he was private away from the game, reluctant to let in too much of the outside world.

Then, he started to grow, both as a player and a man. No longer the skinny kid that was fending opponents into an alternate universe at Norths in Brisbane, the 31-year-old has become a face of rugby league and one of its indigenous greats.

"I just want to stand up and say what I've got to say when the right time is and just be a role model for the next generation. It's taken a long time to get to where I am today and I feel like I'm still growing as a role model away from here," Inglis said.


When asked how often he embraces a culture that spans as far back as 50,000 years, Inglis said: "Every time I wake up. Every time I go to bed, I embrace it because that's who I am."

Indigenous Round has become far more than a buzzword for the NRL. Its First Nation players take the week to heart, using it as an expression of their family and culture and helping to raise awareness for the issues at the heart of many of Australia's indigenous communities.

True colours: Greg Inglis cracks a laugh during the photo shoot.

Photo: NRL Imagery

Inglis found himself in the middle of a controversy at the start of the season when he was abused from the stands as he left the field. Two fans were given indefinite bans from the NRL.

For Inglis, it was a shock and a setback. But it also served as a reminder that weekends like the Indigenous Round have a much broader role to play among the game's fans and supporters.

"It was a bit disappointing that it still goes on. It's 2018. I'm thankful the game dealt with it in the right way. It's not acceptable in Australian society," Inglis told

"I walked in, I heard it. Did that really happen? Whether it's directed at me or someone else of a different background, it's unacceptable."

Things could have been different for Inglis if he had signed with the Broncos in 2010. Instead, he moved to the Rabbitohs, a shift that helped him find a purpose far beyond the white lines of a football field.

"It wasn't until I came here to Redfern [that I met] Sol Bellear. He was a brilliant leader in the Indigenous community. He was on the freedom bus ride back in the day and lead the way for Indigenous people.

"It wasn't until I got here that he took me under his wing. He was one of the key reasons why I came here."

On Sunday, Inglis will run out against the Dragons wearing a special jersey that was largely designed by the Indigenous players within the ranks of the Rabbitohs.

Inglis says part of the design represents how he walks in the footsteps of his ancestors. Such has been his impact on the modern game, he can be assured many youngsters will one day walk in his.

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Phil Lutton

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