Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Missing the Magic Men; What Has Happened to All the Aboriginal Playmakers in NRL? Asks Nick Walshaw

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

Missing the Magic Men; What Has Happened to All the Aboriginal Playmakers in NRL? Asks Nick Walshaw

Article excerpt

SO WHERE have all the Aboriginal playmakers gone?

"You know," Cody Walker says with a grins, "that's one of the best questions I've ever been asked.

"But the answer - I dunno.

"I can't say why there isn't more of us playing ... I can only tell you why I am."

Which may be enough.

For what is Walker if not a 100/1 TAB ticket?

The son of a country Corrections Officer who, raised with little, and handed less, arrived at Redfern last year having humped his swag through seven winters, three States and five clubs in the NRL, Queensland Cup, even Sydney park footy.

Sure, Walker had been named for an NRL debut. But that was two years earlier.

And still, at age 27, he was waiting.

Another indigenous wannabe, it seemed, born too late.

For 20 years ago this winter, Aboriginal playmakers were everywhere.

Truly, a 90s phenomenon to rival Reebok Pumps.

So plentiful that, through seasons 1997/98 alone, league's very own version of 'The Mob' included Laurie Daley, Cliff Lyons, John Simon, Preston Campbell, Anthony Mundine, Scott Prince, Dennis Moran, Wes Patten, even Darrell 'Tricky' Trindall.

Back then, league was painted black. One in every five players, Aboriginal.

And good luck arguing the game wasn't better for it.

But then, well, the NRL began embracing power, structure, completions, wrestle - not police escorts for Ewan McGrady.

Sure, the game's best player is, and may forever be, Gungarri man Johnathan Thurston.

But with Polynesians now comprising 38% of the NRL population, and indigenous numbers half of what they were, it has been players like Walker hit hardest.

Indeed, according to analysis of all 16 NRL clubs, indigenous players still comprise 25% of centres and 18% of fullbacks and wingers

Yet only four of 32 halves are Aboriginal - Thurston, Walker, Ash Taylor, Aidan Sezer.

"Which is why," says Aboriginal great Ricky Walford, "the rise of Cody Walker is so important."

Isn't it what?

More than usurping Sam Burgess as the Bunnie's best, or injecting matches with the unpredictability of Kim Jong-un, Walker also shapes as the new face of a potentially exciting future.

For earlier this year, it was Roosters coach Trent Robinson who noted: "If you're not playing footy, you won't be at the races".

So what chance Walker becomes Winx?

For as NRL teams increasingly look to add more "eyes up" play within their structure, so the value of this Souths six rises.

More than random, Walker is reliable. Consistent.

Like a controlled Chrissy Sandow.

And it's spreading.

Already this year, Aboriginal halves hold down the top three spots for NRL try assists, with only an injury to Thurston keeping him from the list reading: Taylor (13), Walker (10) and Sezer (9).

Elsewhere, the Energizer Bunny has also made more linebreaks than any other player in the code while his running metres, among halves, is also better than all but Brisbane's Anthony Milford. …

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