Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell are looking to break the stereotypes around indigenous culture.
Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell are looking to break the stereotypes around indigenous culture.

Smashing stereotypes: Cody, Latrell fly NRL indigenous flag

JOBLESS dole bludgers who get given homes and don't earn them.

Indigenous NRL stars Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell believe these sorts of stereotypes about Aboriginal people still exist and they are out to set the record straight.

Rather than highlight his own journey - one that already has seen him struggle some days to get out of bed, or others disappearing to go fishing with his dad - Kangaroos incumbent and Roosters superstar Latrell Mitchell simply points out his new Sydney home.

"Because with indigenous Australians, there's this stereotype that says we're lazy, on the dole, get given houses," he said.

Well, I want kids to know I've never been on the dole in my life.

"Want them to know I finished school and just went out and got myself a house. It wasn't given to me for free, I bought it."

And why he wants it told during NRL Indigenous Round.

"This is our chance," Mitchell said, "to prove what comes with work hard."

Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell are proud of their indigenous heritage. Picture: Danny Aarons
Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell are proud of their indigenous heritage. Picture: Danny Aarons

Only three years after making their NRL debuts in the same 2016 season opener - albeit with rival clubs and as vastly different stories - Walker and Mitchell are exploding as the code's biggest Aboriginal superstars.

Indeed, after a host of big-name retirements in the past nine months - think Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, even Sam Thaiday - these two rising rugby league entertainers, and potential NSW Origin teammates, are the undeniable poster boys for the NRL Indigenous Round.

At 29, proud Bundjalung man Walker skippers the Indigenous All Stars. While Mitchell, he leads the war cry.

No small thing considering the Australian Test centre is still only 21.

"Leading the boys, it's a huge honour," Mitchell said. "And something I want to do for 10 years."

Cody Walker has worked hard to make an NRL career for himself and wants to be an example to the indigenous community. Picture: Getty Images
Cody Walker has worked hard to make an NRL career for himself and wants to be an example to the indigenous community. Picture: Getty Images

Understanding that while Mitchell and Walker are undeniably talented - and boast that instinct the latter insists "cannot be taught" - the bedrock of their success has always been effort.

Which doesn't mean this weekend shouldn't be awash with their highlights reel moments. Same deal for those of fellow Aboriginal favourites such as Cliffy Lyons, Ewan McGrady, Nathan Blacklock, even "Choc" Mundine.

But still, know that as recently as January, Walker was picking up the phone to call a Townsville primary school.

"Chasing votes", as he puts it, for Indigenous All Stars selection.

Which seems absurd now, sure. Especially with the Bunnies playmaker sitting sixth in Dally M voting.

Yet over summer, Walker was so unsure the Australian public would put him into the All Stars via popular vote, he not only reached out to scores of friends via Facebook, but also phoned his old man, brothers, cousins and anyone else he knew would pick up.

Twice already, he had been available for All Stars selection. And twice, the public overlooked him.

Latrell Mitchell has developed into one of the game's genuine superstars. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Latrell Mitchell has developed into one of the game's genuine superstars. Picture: Phil Hillyard

"Which devastated me," he said. "In 2017, I watched the game at Newcastle from the grandstand.

"I was so proud of the boys, yet so envious. It was tough."

Which was simply the latest chapter in a yarn, we now know, that has been full of near misses.

Such as 2013, when on the verge of first grade, Walker's shoulder popped.

Or a year after that, when picked to debut for Melbourne by coach Craig Bellamy - and having sorted his entire family to fly down for the game - a hamstring tore in the final captain's run.

All up, the same unending grind that had this Rabbitohs star calling that Townsville school.

"Because my older brother, he teaches there," Walker explained. "And I was hoping he might get all the schoolkids and their parents voting for me."

Which they did. Just like everyone else. It was the start of a process that eventually led to Indigenous coach Laurie Daley gifting him the captaincy.

And as for Walker's hopes this weekend?

"As the oldest living culture in the world," he said, "we get to showcase our culture, our skill and our talents.

"And the NRL should be praised for that. But it's also about encouraging change.

Cody Walker captained the Indigenous All Stars this year after being overlooked for the side entirely in the previous two years. Picture: AAP
Cody Walker captained the Indigenous All Stars this year after being overlooked for the side entirely in the previous two years. Picture: AAP

"Not by saying we should do this or that, but by showing what can happen when you work hard and make the right choices."

Mitchell agrees.

"I love having the chance to represent my culture," he said. "But also to help make change, educate people, smash stereotypes.

"There are so many positives can come out of this."

And for proof, look no further than the two men heading this story.

"You go into any indigenous community," Walker said, "and the first thing you'll see is a group of young kids with a footy.

"I know growing up in Casino, we'd always have a footy in our hands. Trying to do trick-shot kicks to get around a telegraph pole.

"Or running down the street throwing flick passes to one another.

"We were always pretending to be an NRL star."

And now, he is.

Which likely means no calls to that Townsville primary school next January, right?

"Ah, probably not," Walker said with a grin. "I don't think I could ever stop doing stuff like that."

News Corp Australia


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