Koori Knockout rugby league: NITV host Dean Widders on the Indigenous event

We’re just two short days away from the 51st edition of the Koori Knockout with a huge crowd expected to descend on Tuggerah.

Held at The Central Coast Regional Sport and Recreation Complex, the four-day carnival gets underway on Friday.

Someone with a special connection to the event is NITV’s Over The Black Dot host and former NRL star Dean Widders.

Having grown up watching his father play and win competitions with the Narwan Eels, Widders said it inspired him to try and follow in his footsteps.

“I’ve grown up with it. I used to go and watch Dad when he was captain-coach with Narwan,” he said.

“He won two comps, and I remember wanting to win a Knockout more than becoming an NRL player.

“It’s something that’s driven me and I’m proud to have won it five times, three with Narwan and twice as player-coach with Redfern.

“It’s always been about representing community. There’s a lot of passion, Aboriginal people are really passionate about representing their mob.

“We love our football, we’re talented at football and it’s a big bonus of big mobs coming together. It’s been described as a modern day corroboree. It’s a great atmosphere.”

A number of huge first round clashes in the men’s division has Widders licking his lips with anticipation.

“WAR (Wiradjuri Aboriginal Rivers) have named a strong team with Jesse Ramien, Braydon Trindall and Brian Kelly,” he said.

“The (Newcastle) Yowies will be competitive. Walgett is another team – I’ve heard Jack Wighton is playing for them.

“Bundjalung has a good draw and will be prominent come the later stages, although black fella football is exciting and unpredictable.

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“We’ve seen sides with NRL players get beaten by community teams.”

Among the features of the carnival is the junior boys and girls divisions, and Widders said there was plenty of talent there that should be capturing the eye of officials.

“That’s what is special about NITV, there’s a lot of talent scouts at home watching the finals on Monday and the stream on Saturday,” he said.

“They get the chance to see some of these teams and young kids running around, and hopefully they get noticed.

“As a rep of the NRL I try to keep an eye out and pass on names.

“In the boys and girls there’s so much young talent that need to be given that opportunity. There’s not enough NRL scouts up there and not enough clubs looking at Indigenous kids as part of their recruitment strategies.

“They’re raw, talented and gifted players, but we want to make sure they have the right support and systems in place to make the challenging move.”

As a former coach in the NRLW with Parramatta, Widders said the growth at both the elite and Knockout level has proven a huge boost for young women.

“It’s a great opportunity for the women,” he said.

“You see all the NRLW players coming back to play and the young girls will love that, the chance to play against them and test their talents to see if they’re up to that.

“It gives them a lot of confidence when they’ve done well. It’s the most even comp I’ve seen for a while and I believe it’s anyone’s game.”

The Koori Knockout will be broadcast online on NITV and Facebook Live on Saturday, with full coverage on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports, SBS and NITV on Sunday and Monday.

Originally published as Koori Knockout: Dean Widders on the magic of the event, need for more scouting of top talents

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