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JT to lead historic pre-game tribute

By Michael Chammas‌, Chief Reporter‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

Photo: Paul Barkley © NRL Photos
Photo: Paul Barkley © NRL Photos

Injured Australian and North Queensland Toyota Cowboys star Johnathan Thurston will lead the Kangaroos through a historic pre-game performance at the World Cup in a tribute to the nation's Indigenous heritage.

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Thurston flew to Melbourne on Monday to rehearse the acknowledgment of country with his Australian teammates, and will play a special part in the performance before the World Cup opener against England on Friday night.

The Kangaroos, who have selected Will Chambers, Dane Gagai and Wade Graham as three Indigenous players for the game at AAMI Park, have been planning the acknowledgement since the mid-season Test back in May.

"At the Anzac Test at the start of the year Mal wanted to have a discussion about doing something for the World Cup," Thurston said.

"All the boys had a healthy discussion about what we wanted to do. We didn't know what it was going to be. While all the boys were on board for doing something we just weren't quite sure how we were going to roll out what we were going to do.

"I went home and was injured for a while. I was back and forth with Mal and I wrote something down and sent it through to Mal. He loved it. It's stuff about what we spoke about at the Anzac Test. The chevron, the coat of arms, the acknowledgement to country but also what we're trying to do with the RISE campaign."

Friday night's historic performance will mark 50 years since a war cry was used by the Kangaroos. The occasion hasn't been lost on coach Mal Meninga, who praised the players for their willingness to take part in the acknowledgement of country.

"It will be 50 years since a war cry was used by the Kangaroos so that was symbolic for us," Meninga said.

"This is not specifically a war cry - but an acknowledgement. Importantly, it was driven by the players. This would never work without the support of the players, and they have bought in.

"Johnathan really drove the process and I think his passion for this acknowledgement is reflected in the words and the movement. It's also an important year in Indigenous history which is another reason Johnathan was so passionate about making it happen."

Thurston left Melbourne on Tuesday but will return before the game to take his part in the ceremony.

"I've seen the boys do it. Immense pride watching the boys do it," Thurston said.

"It's never been done before. Years ago the Kangaroos attempted something like this, this is about uniting the team. Also what we stand for. It's going to be pretty special. It's going to be great."

First published on NRL.com.