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June 1, 2021

The one player that still makes Titans star nervousKotoni Staggs says his uncle was a huge influence on him growing up.

Filed under: Outdoors — admin @ 7:54 am

Jamal Fogarty is co-captain of the Gold Coast Titans and a proud Indigenous man from the Mununjali area in Beaudesert, southwest of Brisbane.

Fogarty is one of the NRL’s great success stories. A talented playmaker as a junior, Fogarty has taken the long road to becoming an established NRL player. He is in his third stint at the Titans after coming through the club’s under-20s system before heading to Parramatta, where he did not play an NRL game, and then returning to Queensland to ply his trade in the Intrust Super Cup.

Fogarty made his NRL debut for the Titans in 2017, but only played two games and didn’t feature again in the top grade until 2020. He worked with at-risk juveniles in his role as a youth worker before securing a full-time NRL contract with the Titans last year.

At 27, he is mature and wants to make a difference with his stature in the community.

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I am Indigenous because my mum Michelle is Aboriginal and from the Mununjali area in Beaudesert, as am I.

I embraced my Aboriginality when I was a little fella, it was a massive part of our day-to-day life and who we were. We used to do things with the whole family, we had a lot of celebrations and did a lot of Aboriginal dancing as kids. We were heavily involved in NAIDOC Week or if guys wanted us to perform at events. We practised our performing a lot – that was our way of growing up and a big part of our lifestyle.

I lost touch with my heritage a little when I started to get a bit older, around high school, it dropped off in the whole town and we weren’t performing and dancing as much as when we were little. I moved to the Gold Coast and was lucky enough to live with an Indigenous family which gave me another connection. We always have a connection to our culture even though we’ve adapted to our lifestyle. In the last couple of years I’ve tried to reconnect and get the culture back into my life as much as possible.

In my youth work I was involved with kids that were in and out of watch houses and detention centres. A few of them were Indigenous kids. I wanted to help them have a connection with someone outside of their family and the system. We could have good conversations about where they want to be and what they want to do outside of a life of crime. I’ve been working with Indigenous kids in the youth space to guide them and be a mentor.

My heritage and culture is everything about who I am, my identity and my family’s identity. It’s in our DNA. We are very proud to be Indigenous people from Beaudesert. I want to be the best role model I can be for the next generation of Indigenous kids, whether they’re coming through football, school or employment. I want to be a good mentor for them and to show them there is a path for Indigenous people, even though the numbers say differently. If we make the right choices and put our minds to it, we can be anything we want to be.

I experienced some racism as little kids but we didn’t really understand it at the time. Even to this day, we see guys like Latrell Mitchell being racially abused on social media. The only way to eliminate that is to call them out and stand strong in numbers and educate people around it and how it makes us feel.

My heroes early on were my uncles, then I started watching rugby league on TV and Preston Campbell became my hero. He was only a small fella but what he did in the game and now in the community is inspirational. I’m lucky I get to connect with Presto through our club. He was one of my idols growing up. Even when I speak to him now I feel like a five-year-old. I’m still shy around him. I still think ‘wow, I’m chatting to Presto’. He is still one of my idols. I want to be what he is like off the field as well.

We could improve Indigenous support networks in the NRL. The Penrith Panthers have an Indigenous liaison officer, Glen Liddiard, to help make their Indigenous connections. He plays a massive part in those kids’ lives. When we move away from our home and community we lose that family connection. For guys to be able to move away and have a genuine Indigenous connection that understands who we are and what we are about is great. We have Jen Cross and Pete Smith who do a great job in their welfare roles at the Titans, but if we had someone like Presto on board for the Indigenous guys to have a connection with, even to just have a chat about football or home life, it would be an easy connection. We understand who we are and what we’re about. If there’s any way the game can improve, it’s to have an identified role or Indigenous mentor around clubs.

I’d like to work in that space later on. If there was an identified role that is definitely something I’d look into. In the youth justice space that was a role I played for a while. To do that in the rugby league world, and guide our young talent coming through, would be great. On the Gold Coast we get so many young Indigenous guys coming through our junior ranks from northern NSW and up to Beaudesert. That would be the ultimate job for me.

I always followed Cody Walker’s story because my past was very similar. We both plied our trades in the Intrust Super Cup. He got his opportunity in the NRL and has run with it with both hands. He is a leader in our game for us Indigenous people. He has represented South Sydney, the Indigenous All Stars and NSW in the best way he can. Hopefully I can follow in the footsteps of Cody and stay in the NRL. I’ve also been inspired by a young fella at our club in Jayden Campbell, Preston’s son. I sit back at training and watch how good a talent he is. He is the most relaxed, skilful player at our club. Some of the stuff he does is effortless – he could do it with his eyes closed. I have to really concentrate and be calculated to do things, but he is so freestyle and off-the-cuff. He is younger than me and hasn’t played NRL but I look up to him. He is an unreal talent.

I showed a lot of resilience to get back into from the last game I played in 2017 to Round 3 last year. That was a moment I will cherish forever. I had a couple of tough times and lean years there. To fight my way back and come back to my junior club and play NRL again was awesome. My Indigenous All Stars debut last year was massive too. I went to the All Stars game in 2020 and a mate of mine said ‘you’ll be playing this game next year’. I laughed because I didn’t even have a contract. To spend a week in camp with guys like Matty Bowen, Justin Hodges, Ken Nagas, Laurie Daley, Johnathan Thurston and those guys was incredible. That was a week I will never forget. Indigenous Round last year was also a great experience.

Being a leader at the Titans doesn’t change what I do at training. As a half I have always pulled the guys in before a drill and spoken about what we have to do. It hasn’t changed how I play or see myself around the place. It’s given me a bit more responsibility to make sure I’m doing the right things and some other stuff outside of the footy field and training paddock.

I hope I can stay in the NRL for a while yet. I wouldn’t say I’m settled, but I’m a lot more confident within myself. I always want to keep improving because if I don’t, there’s guys in the squad that will take my jersey and I’ll be back in the Intrust Super Cup really quickly. I’m a lot more comfortable than what I was this time last year.

Q&A: Staggs opens up on being a role model

Kotoni Staggs has made a huge impression in a short space of time in the NRL with the Broncos.

Currently nearing the end of a long convalescing period after a serious knee injury, the proud Wiradjuri man opens up on what his heritage and culture means to him.

What Indigenous nations are you connected with?

I am connected to the Wiradjuri nation from my mum’s side of the family on the central coast of NSW and our totem is the goanna. I come from Wellington in western NSW.

What does your heritage and culture mean to you?

It means a lot to me. I am a proud Aboriginal man. I am a big believer in my culture, I am half-Aboriginal, half-Tongan and I’m just starting to get to know a bit about my Tongan heritage. I’m proud of who I am and I don’t want to change who I am. I grew up around my Indigenous side of the family and I went to school with a lot of Indigenous friends and cousins, so I know that side a lot more than my Tongan side. I’m a big believer in culture and especially my Indigenous background and things like the Indigenous Round and our Indigenous jersey take on special meaning to all Aboriginal people.

The best advice I was ever given?

Chase your dreams and never let someone tell you can’t do something.

If I wasn’t I sport, I would be?

A builder. I have been doing my carpentry apprenticeship to give me a career for life after football.

When people see me I hope they think?

I’m a nice, genuine, caring person who likes to look after others and put other people first.

Family means?

Everything to myself. I have a big family and they support me with everything I have been through, so they are my No.1. I come from a small Indigenous community in Wellington, so when I play, I feel I’m not just representing myself, I’m representing my family as well.

My weird sporting superstition is?

Every game, as I put my boots on, I put on my left shoe first and tie that one up before I put my right boot on.

My sporting hero is?

Darren Lockyer. He was just a natural footballer who wasn’t the biggest bloke, but he was so competitive. I’ve tried to get that competitive streak from the way ‘Locky’ played.

What’s it like being an Indigenous athlete today?

It’s something I never thought would happen in my life. It makes me proud of who I am, what I’ve achieved so far and the legacy I want to leave to my Indigenous people by playing NRL.

Who put you on your pathway?

My uncle was a huge influence for me growing up. He would always be the one encouraging me to go outside and play football with him.

Who is your inspiration?

My inspiration would be my nan and my mum. To get me where I am today, they were the ones who made the sacrifices to get me to this position today at the Broncos. I am always thankful for what they have done.

What is the key priority to improve players and leadership opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous athletes?

Everyone can be a leader and speaking is what can make you a leader. It’s important not to run away from stuff. As a young kid, I would hide away, I had questions I wanted to ask but I was too scared to use my voice. The older I have gotten, the more confident I have been to use my voice and I have found my voice can be quite strong and a lot of people who know me now would agree with that. I am believing in myself a lot more now and I like being a role model to kids and my family.


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