Reigning Koori Knockout champions, the Newcastle All Blacks, are gearing up for another exciting year as the highly anticipated carnival approaches. This annual event brings together over 100 teams, making it one of the largest sporting assemblies in the country, and serves as a unique blend of grassroots rugby league and elite talent.
Last year's carnival, held in Bombaderry on Yuin Country, saw renowned players such as former Dally M medallist Ben Barba, Andrew Fifita, and Souths stars Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker take to the field. It marked the 50th anniversary of the Koori Knockout, which has come a long way since its humble beginnings at Camdenville Park in Sydney's inner west back in 1971.
In the men's final, Barba and Mitchell's Walgett Aboriginal Connection faced off against the Newcastle All Blacks, resulting in a victory for the latter. As a result, the Newcastle All Blacks earned the right to host this year's tournament over the October long weekend. This will be their second time hosting, having previously won the men's competition in 2018.
Organizing an event of this magnitude, which attracts thousands of participants and spectators, is no small feat. Uncle Edward Smith, the president of NAB (Newcastle All Blacks), expressed both excitement and some initial apprehension, but highlighted the advantage of their prior experience in hosting the event in 2019. Planning for this year's Koori Knockout began promptly after the conclusion of last year's triumph.
To accommodate the stacked lineup of teams and the large crowds, Newcastle has decided to travel an hour south to Tuggerah and utilize the Central Coast Regional Sporting complex, which boasts eight fields. NAB treasurer and organizer Carol Widders emphasized the unique advantage of having all the games played in one facility, stating that no other venue offers such convenience.
At a recent delegates meeting, decisions were made regarding player availability and the age brackets for the junior divisions. The confirmed competitions include boys' under 13s, under 15s, and under 17s, as well as girls' under 15s and under 17s, in addition to the women's fixtures. The junior teams will compete for victory honors within a cap of 16 teams, ensuring a full schedule without any byes throughout the carnival. Alongside them, approximately 60 men's teams are expected to gather on Darkinjung country.
A stakeholders meeting is scheduled for July, and team applications to participate will close on September 15. The official draw will be released the following week. Uncle Edward lightheartedly mentioned that the friendly banter and competitive spirit between teams will commence "very shortly."
Regarding their chances of securing a consecutive victory, Uncle Edward expressed confidence, stating that the Newcastle All Blacks will be even stronger this year, as some players who were unable to participate in Bombaderry will be joining the team in 2023.
The Koori Knockout is set to take place from October 29 to November 1 in Tuggerah, promising an exhilarating celebration of Indigenous rugby league talent.
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Photo Courtesy National Indigenous Times
Courtesy National Indigenous Times