The NRL’s annual indigenous round takes place this weekend, and given everything that’s going on in the world right now regarding racial equality and justice, it’s hard not to feel like this celebration of First Nations culture has extra significance this year, especially with this year’s theme of, ‘Pass Back. Move Forward’ encouraging fans to use the round as a start-point to learn more about Indigenous culture and history.
It’s fitting then that this year’s crop of Indigenous Round jersey designs might be the best and most beautifully executed yet – each one providing a beautiful canvas for the artists involved to place their designs. Let’s check them out.
The Knights jersey was designed by local Aboriginal artist Tyler Smith, who also sought out the advice and feedback of Knights players Connor Watson, Edrick Lee and Gehamat Shibasaki, whose handprints also appear on the design. What’s more, Smith also enlisted the help of four young Indigenous detainees through his art program at Frank Baxter Youth Justice Centre to assist with creating the design.
Central to the design are three totems representing the three players – Goanna (Watson), Turtle (Shibasaki) and Saltwater Crocodile (Lee), while the rest of the design reflects the local Newcastle landscape.
Designed jerseys by Aboriginal artist Danielle Mate Sullivan, the Eels Indigenous jersey was also created with the assistance of Eels Indigenous player Will Smith. The design represents the connection to the past and present – the large circle on the front represents a meeting place, while the line to the top is a journey line to the players’ homelands.
On the back of the shirt are handprints representing the children of Indigenous Eels players Smith and Blake Ferguson, while colours from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags feature on the sides of the jersey.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons’ jersey features several distinct artworks created for the shirt by Indigenous artists. The front design, entitled Dragons Community by Watson, showcases spiritual guides, the humpback whale (the whale is the totemic animal of the local Dharawal people) and footprints of the kangaroo within the hunting boomerang. The grey pathways represent the different backgrounds and journeys travelled by all players and supporters, showing how they all come together in the end as Dragons.
On the back there’s a piece called Dharawal Country – Spirit of the Dragons by Binge, which represents the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and WIN Stadium, while the U-shaped symbols embody the traditional Bidjigal and Wadi Wadi custodians where the stadiums stands.
New Zealand Warriors
Designed by Dave Burke, the Warriors’ jersey is called ‘Tāua Tahi’. Tāua tahi is the Māori way of saying ‘That’s us’, and the purpose of the design is to acknowledge the cultural similarities between the varied indigenous peoples that inhabit New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands.
The jersey is designed to celebrate this coming together of Indigenous people both on and off the rugby field, and how that unity can inspire respect and cooperation for the next generation.
Wests Jersey combines two pieces of existing Indigenous art – ‘Guwing & Yunada’ (meaning Sun & Moon) on the front and back of the jersey, while the sleeves feature a piece called ‘River flow’. The front and back piece celebrates people living in harmony with one another and nature, while the sleeve art encourages people to move forward together in the right direction.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs jersey features a striking central graphic created in collaboration with the indigenous players at the Rabbitohs and artist Uncle Joe Walker. The jersey design represents how the varied cultures and communities of South Sydney are connected by the famous black rabbit.
The jersey also features a nice touch on either sleeve – cuffs representing the colours of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
Designed by Elaine Chambers-Hegarty the centre of the Broncos’ jersey is the meeting ground where people from north, south, east and west gather to unite their communities under the watch of their ancestors.
Meanwhile the circles that cover the jersey represent the various communities – some close by, some remote – that the Broncos represent, while the wavy lines represent the rivers of communities currently suffering through drought.
The Roosters jersey is one of the most striking and detailed of all the Indigenous round designs, with the various animals depicted on the jersey representing the totems of the Roosters’ various Indigenous first team and youth players.
The footprints represent the players kicking up dust and moving in the womb of Mother Earth, which denotes them taking the field of play together.
Gold Coast Titans
‘Healing’ an artwork by Coffs Harbour artist Laura Pitt is the inspiration for the Titans’ bright and colourful Indigenous jersey. The blue circles in the middle represent the Titans community, while the circles around them represent the passion of the supporters energising the players.
The handprints and blue and white waterholes represent the club’s connection to the land while the ‘healing leaves’ speak to the resilience of the club on and off the field.
The Sharks jersey is designed by Alara Geebung (Cameron) is designed to represent a reconnection with the ways of “our old people”, and a oneness with mother nature. The spirits in the night sky top half of the jersey represent the totems of the Sharks’ Indigenous players, as well as the “oneness between spirt and sky to land and sea”.
At the top right of the design is the Southern Cross constellation – something that represents the connection between native peoples and wider Australian culture.
A twist on the Bulldogs traditional white jersey with blue chevron, the Bulldogs jersey was designed by local Indigenous students from Bethlehem College, Ashfield. The design symbolising the coming together both Indigenous and non-Indigenous players and fans alike, while the designers themselves are represented as suns surrounding the central meeting place. The jersey also features totem animals of the local area and the Cooks River.
The Storm’s jersey is designed by Ky-ya Nicholson Ward, a 17-year-old Wurundjeri, Dja Dja Wurrung, and Ngurai illum Wurrung woman, and is called ‘Jindi Worobak’ which means ‘Join and Unite’ in Woiwurrung.
The design represents the way that the spectators, staff and fans all come together to support the players when they take the field at AAMI Park, and how through unity the community is stronger together. The jersey also represents the Birrarung (Yarra River), which is spiritually significant to the Wurundjeri people, the traditional custodians of Narrm (Melbourne).
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys Indigenous jersey design has once again been the result of a competition, and this year’s design is called the ‘Chosen One’ designed by artist William Chambers, and representing the life cycle of a sea turtle – a delicacy in Torres Strait and North Queensland Indigenous communities.
The jersey represents the turtle’s journey from hatchling to fully grown adult, from the shore to the open see, navigating obstacles along the way until it reproduces can continues the cycle of life, and then is ‘chosen’ by hunters to become food.
Created by artist Lynnice Church, an Aboriginal woman from the Ngunnawal, Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi Tribes, the Raiders jersey artwork celebrates the ACT region’s Reconciliation Public Holiday – the only region in Australia to have such a public holiday.
However, the shirt has sparked criticism from within the Raiders’ own ranks, with star player Jack Wighton – the only Indigenous man in the Raiders squad – criticising the rather understated design and the lack of consultation with players over it.
“I’m very, very proud but I’m a little bit disappointed how the club went about the jersey and that. I feel like we just ticked a box, no one got any input,” Wighton told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We’ve got a lot of First Nations people of all different types – Samoans and Maoris and that, you know – and no one really had any say about the jersey. I think you can tell. We had a whole canvas and they just put a little design on the sleeve. We didn’t hear nothing about it until this week. No one came to us for any ideas. In previous years we’ve had a lot to do with it and the club has run things past us but I felt like they got lazy this year.”
Less traditional in its artwork than other Indigenous jerseys, the Panthers design, created by Natasha Fordham, the front of the jersey features a setting sun silhouetting a Darug man, acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that the Panthers currently call home.
The jersey also features the totems of that Panthers Indigenous players, including Brent Naden (Wiradjuri – goanna), Brayden McGrady (Kamilaroi – snake) and Daine Laurie (Bundjalung / Yaegl – turtle).
Manly Sea Eagles
Manly’s jersey is all about the area that surrounds it, with the large blue circular design representing the Manly district and Brookvale, with its tentacles and tributaries reaching far beyond to fans beyond the region, while a map of the Manly/Warringah/Pittwater districts sits in the centre of the design.
There are also 17 dotted lines on the jersey, each representing one of the 17 players that will suit up every week for the Sea Eagles, with each line representing the journey that player has taken from grass roots footy all the way to the NRL.
So there you have it, the 2020 NRL Indigenous Round jerseys in full – which is your favourite, tell us in the comments below!