By Adam Bagnall
St George Illawarra Dragons second-rower Joel Thompson is proud to have helped launch the Club’s ‘Close the Gap’ jersey to be worn against the Penrith Panthers at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Sunday.
The Forbes Magpies junior proudly modelled the jersey, which acknowledges the Dharawal nation, when presented to him by local aboriginal artist Kevin Butler.
The jersey itself showcases a symbol of significance to the local indigenous community, the Flame Tree (Weery Wegne), which was vital to the traditional owners of the land in coastal areas, integral in the supply of fish, through its soft spongy bark used to make string for nets and fishing lines, and a source of food due to its seeds.
‘Close the Gap’ is Australia’s largest ever campaign to improve the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“The jersey is made by local designer Kevin Butler and it represents this area and the south coast,” said Thompson.
“I’m definitely proud to be involved with this as I come from a small aboriginal community and know of the struggles that are still there.
“I know the significance of closing the gap in all areas such as education and health which is very important for our people.
“The NRL has come a long way with the things they’ve put in place and the programs they have out there are excellent.
“It’s definitely getting bigger and better and I support the NRL and the direction they are heading.”
Dragons Community helps promote this message at a local level through supporting programs such as the Myimbarr Learning Centre in Wollongong and the Jervis Bay Primary School/Wreck Bay program.
The Dragons will host approximately 300 participants and families from both the aforementioned programs for the upcoming encounter against the Panthers.
Thompson is expecting the team to bounce back from the loss suffered against the Sydney Roosters last round and hopes to replicate his recent try-scoring effort.
“It was good to finally get over the stipe on the weekend,” said Thompson.
“Unfortunately we let ourselves down a bit in areas but we should be better for it this week.
“There’s been times in recent games where we have lacked that concentration and go away from our game plan but we’ve been working on that to make sure we get in our heads we have to be in it for all eighty minutes.”