NRL 2019: Indigenous All Stars, Preston Campbell’s powerful address
Preston Campbell stood in front of 20 Indigenous All Stars players and looked them in the eye.
The room was silent.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Cody Walker told foxsports.com.au.
The NRL legend is short in stature but his message was powerful. He had the entire room in the palm of his hand.
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It was at the team hotel on Tuesday night, the third night of camp. Indigenous coach Laurie Daley had asked Campbell to address the team.
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Rather than speak at length about the All Stars — the game he fought to create a decade ago — Campbell asked the group one simple question.
“Why are you doing it?”
Then he let the players ponder.
“It wasn’t a major talk, it was just one question — ‘boys, remember why you’re doing this, and why are you doing it?’” Campbell explained to foxsports.com.au.
“All I wanted was the boys to hear it, and I didn’t need to say too much. I wanted to pause to give them time to think about it.
“It allowed the boys to think, to let it sink in.
“The importance of this game, we need it to have relevance. We need it to have relevance to them.
“Yes they play football for a living, they are professionals, and yes, some may see it as just a game. But it’s not just a game. There’s a lot to it.
“I think the boys, they understand it.”
After leaving the room in a powerful silence, Campbell did then speak a little more about the history of the All Stars concept and what it meant to him.
It was his brainchild that was green-lit by the NRL as an official pre-season fixture in 2010, and it’s returned this year after a hiatus with the addition of a Maori team.
Campbell wanted to make sure the players understood the history of the game.
“We’ve got a lot of young players in here now. Boys that were really young, that saw the All Stars and saw their favourite players play and they dreamt of maybe putting the jersey on, but they hadn’t actually known what the All Stars is about,” he said.
“I basically let them know where the idea came from, and I told them why it was important to me. I asked them to think about why it was important to them.
“It’s really that one question was all I needed to ask. It gets the boys thinking about they needed to play rugby league.
“So much stems from that. They think about what they are able to do for their family, what they represent.”
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Campbell could see the impact his message had on the group.
Walker stopped short of saying there were any tears in the room, but revealed just how powerful the moment was for the players.
“To hear him say that he fought for nearly two years to get the All Stars concept on the calendar, it really put things in perspective about how hard he worked and how much it means to him,” Walker said.
“For us to go out there and represent him, and everyone else in Aboriginal communities.
“You could hear a pin drop in the room. His messages were so powerful.
“He is an iconic person in our game and in Aboriginal communities.”
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Campbell is one of a number of NRL legends and former Indigenous All Stars players to be invited into camp with the team this week.
Others include George Rose, Justin Hodges, and Jharal Yow Yeh.
Daley said it was important to have such respected figures around the group in the lead-up to the game.
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“I think it’s a great opportunity to utilise Preston in a role of understanding how this game came about and why it was so important to us,” Daley said.
“I think the boys have good knowledge of the game, but just to go back and learn a little bit about the history.
“That’s very important. He’s been a wonderful ambassador for us and he’s someone who everyone admires in the game.”
Originally published as Inside Preston Campbell’s powerful address to Indigenous All Stars