National anthem protest to spread to NRL grand final?

Balmain great Larry Corowa said a player like Johnathan Thurston could send a powerful message. Photo / Getty
Balmain great Larry Corowa said a player like Johnathan Thurston could send a powerful message. Photo / Getty

The NRL has been dragged into the national anthem protest storm with league greats calling on players not to stand during the national anthem at this year's grand final.

Indigenous greats of the game have called on indigenous players from the final teams to protest when Advance Australia Fair is performed before kick-off at the NRL decider at ANZ Stadium on October 2.

It comes after San Francisco 49ers star Colin Kaepernick knelt during the American national anthem in a silent form of protest against oppression of black and other minority communities in the United States.

Rugby League Week has reported NRL greats Larry Corowa and Joe Williams have publicly called on players to "send a powerful message to white Australia".

Williams in January rejected calls for him to return his Australia Day Citizen of the Year award for his decision not to stand when the Australian anthem was played during the ceremony.

Williams was awarded the honour by the city of Wagga Wagga for his work in mental health and suicide prevention.

The former Rabbitohs playmaker and professional boxer said a grand final day protest would begin a conversation about ignored societal and racial issues in Australia.

"I applaud Kaepernick for what he has done and I know he has copped a lot of flak for it," Williams told Rugby League Week. "Imagine if a couple of guys did it on grand final day - what a powerful message it would send to white Australia.

"It could bring all the racism that's in the closet to the surface - the racism that we have to put up with every day. The way we are treated in shops, the way people look at us on the street and the way the government treats us.

"It's time it stopped and our footballers are role models and the ideal ones to bring about change. They need to take a stance. They are only footballers for a short time. They are black men until the day they die."

Corowa, a Balmain legend and Kangaroos representative winger, said the protest could force through change at a government level.

Corowa said a clear message from Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston would carry huge weight in starting a national debate on inequality in Australia.

"It's time to send a powerful message to out government, which has not been effective enough in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," Corowa said. "And all it would take is one player to do it on grand final day.

"I wish someone would have the courage to do it - it would be something to see. Imagine if someone with the respect of Johnathan Thurston did it - what a powerful statement that would make."

Thurston has previously advocated Australian representative teams performing a national war dance before international rugby league Tests.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga even said earlier this year he would support Australia performing its own war dance in response to New Zealand's traditional haka.

"I love the idea," Meninga said. "It's something that we need to address. It makes great sense to me with the World Cup next year, 50 years on, that we do something along those lines. I'm happy to have a look at it.

"Indigenous people are part of Australia (but) I think it's got to be more all encompassing around multicultural values. If we can do something like that and we do it well - that's the more important part - I think it'll be a great spectacle."

Thurston will be front and centre when the Cowboys aim to qualify for the grand final when they take on Cronulla at Allianz Stadium tomorrow night.

- news.com.au

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