Emerging Goannas on fast track to big league

RUGBY LEAGUE

For the Dragons, yesterday was just another gruelling pre-season session but for Rikki Sutherland and Noel Underwood it was the chance of a lifetime.

The pair will represent the First Nations Goannas against the Newcastle Knights at the NRL Festival of Indigenous Rugby League in Newcastle next weekend.

The festival, running in place of the "rested" Indigenous All Stars match, gives 16 "non-elite" indigenous players the chance to take the field with four yet-to-be named NRL players against the Wayne Bennett-coached Knights.

Sutherland, from Walgett, said yesterday's session with the Dragons was an eye-opener.

"It's the next level up compared to what we're used to so it's good fun and you take a lot in," he said.

"It's a really good experience just training with them and jumping in and having a go with them."

Sutherland and Underwood caught the eye of team selectors and indigenous rugby league icons David Peachey and Preston Campbell at the NSW Aboriginal Knockout and the Queensland Murri Carnival.

After years of competing for their local communities Sutherland said they never imagined such an opportunity would arise.

"You just play for a bit of passion when it comes to knockouts and carnivals but it's a great concept they've come up with.

"It's very humbling coming from our own communities and our own people, it's very humbling to be representing our people as a whole.

"It's a step in the right direction when it comes to bush footy and indigenous players."

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