Johnathan Thurston has been angry this week. Angry that the retirement announcement of former Australian, Queensland and Indigenous All-Stars teammate Greg Inglis has been viewed with suspicion instead of celebration and optimism about the role he can play.
“Yes, that's annoying me — the suggestion that Souths are trying to rort the salary cap," Thurston says. “Theres only one GI. You know what I mean? What hes done for the game and people keep finding different angles and ways to bring him down when we should be celebrating what hes achieved. A lot of the boys who are playing now: he inspired them to play. They wanted to be like him. They wanted to be the next GI. Why would the game want to lose someone like that? Were both in a privileged position where we can help with social change. Hes very passionate about his indigenous culture and where he comes from. Hes got a huge following across the country and can inspire the next generation of our culture to be better. Thats the presence that he has. It would be a waste to lose that.”
Inglis, the South Sydney captain, announced on Monday he was retiring, his body no longer capable of doing what his mind has been willing to do for 14 seasons. Nobody expected the retirement announcement to come this soon, but few of us were entirely shocked when it came. Inglis, a spindly kid from Macksville on the Mid North Coast, had nothing left to prove.
Right on cue, however, rival clubs smelt a rat: why would Inglis walk away from the remaining $1.5 million remaining on his contract? If hes going to recoup some of that money in newly created development, ambassador and indigenous roles for his club, surely that money must go into Souths salary cap? And if so, how much?
The distrust was very rugby league. They are valid concerns, sure, but the debate overshadowed the critical role Inglis can now play.
“I think what were going to see now is Greg, as someone who has made a mark in football, who has committed to his community, who wants to make a difference … is now ready to take that next step into real leadership both in and outside of the game,” offered respected broadcaster Stan Grant, a giant of the Indigenous community in his own right, on Macquarie Sports Radio.
From him rising from the pack during the Indigenous sides war cry before the All Stars match in 2015, to his famous “Goanna” post-try celebrations, to the “Deadly” mural on Cleveland Street, Redfern, which depicts the Souths fullback in full cry, Inglis has represented his culture with pride.
Coming to Souths turbo-charged that legacy. He went perilously close to joining Brisbane in 2010 when he was squeezed out of Melbourne because of the salary cap scandal but found his way to the Bunnies at the last minute.
One of the first people to take him under their wing at Redfern was the late Sol Bellear, also an Indigenous giant who had been chairman of the Aboriginal Medical Service and a Souths board member.
"It wasn't until I came here to Redfern [that I met] Sol Bellear,” Ingis said last year. “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.”
Soon after, Inglis told then Souths chief executive Shane Richardson, who is now the clubs general manager of football: “My kids will die at 50. Thats the average age that an Aboriginal kid dies. I dont want my kids to die at 50.”
From that moment onwards, Inglis became the reluctant role model, specifically concerned about Indigenous health.
His passion for his people was never more noticeable than during All Stars week. Thurston admits he didnt know much about his culture until he played for the Indigenous team for the first time in 2010.
“But GI always had that connection,” Thurston says. “Everyone would just hang onto every word when he spoke. He inspired so many people in those camps. He was a leader of men. Still is.”
Federal MP Linda Burney, who in 2016 became the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, was also part of those camps.
“The care and compassion he showed to younger players and the way he conducted himself, hes just really well mannered,” she recalls. “He had old-fashioned values that will always resonate. What he did for Aboriginal rugby league and players has been instrumental in where things are today.”
Inglis said earlier this week that his mental health wasnt a factor behind his decision to retire, but its certainly something he's had to keep in check. He was the best player on the field in Queenslands loss to NSW in State of Origin I last year but was on the phone to his tRead More – Source