THIS week your columnist sat down for lengthy, and certainly enlightening, conversation with Dragons prop Josh Kerr. It covered a range of things, not all of it could fit into the story I ultimately wrote.
As was covered in the yarn, Kerr is one of the best people you will ever meet in rugby league. If there were more Josh Kerr's in the NRL, the game would have far fewer problems.
He is the walking talking definition of a gentle giant. As a kid, you can only imagine his nature had even smoother edges. When he tells you about the racist abuse he was subjected to, you can sense him going back to it. It still hurts.
He's the first to tell you he's led a fortunate life, "whatever I've gone through, there's others who've gone through a hundred times worse," he said more than a couple of times.
He stands proud today, those early struggles are just a part of his story, but it's not a part he's forgotten, or ever will. It can't be brushed over. As we head into another Indigenous Round, it gave us pause to consider what the annual round really means.
This year the answer is different to what it has been in the past. The 'Pass Back, Walk Forward' theme sounds like a mere slogan, but it's marked change from how the round has been celebrated in the past.
We'll still see the Indigenous design jerseys, the boots, the headgear. Social media is abuzz with 'Indigenous Team of the Decade' and all the rest. We've still seen the highlight packages of the great Indigenous players and their freakish exploits in our game over many years.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's marvellous. The first player I ever fell in love with was 'The Pearl' Steve Renouf. It should be celebrated, admired, relived. However, for it to have real substance, the way the game goes about celebrating Indigenous Round had to change.
You like to think we've come a long way. I initially looked at the Adam Goodes saga and sat thankful that our game didn't have the same issue with race. I was wrong.
Sure, there are plenty of things to take pride in, the Indigenous All-Stars concept, the fact that Arthur Beetson was the first Indigenous person to captain an Australian national team. Again, such things should be celebrated, but it's not what initiatives like Indigenous Round should rest on wholly and solely.
This year will be the 12th in which the NRL has held Indigenous Round. February saw the ninth annual Indigenous All-Stars match.
You would think we've come a long way in that time, yet something as innocuous as Latrell Mitchell's eight-second appearance draped in the Aboriginal flag in an NRL ad earlier this year sent people into a spin.
It was labeled "divisive" by such beacons of social awareness as Karl Stefanovic and the rest of the "keep politics out of footy" crowd.
This column said at the time rugby league was edging toward its own Adam Goodes episode with Mitchell if it continued unchecked, or un-called out.
Mitchell, or more pointedly his management, didn't get it all right in his very public contract negotiations, while breaches of social distancing laws were silly. At the time I didn't feel race was a factor in the furore or punishment that followed, but that is privilege in itself. I can simply 'decide' whether it is or not and move on.
That choice is not something Indigenous people are afforded in this country. Kerr didn't have it growing up, it was non-Indigenous people determining whether what they were saying was racist or 'just a joke'.
More broadly, there's a persistence and relentlessness to the criticism of Mitchell that isn't there for other players - Nathan Cleary for example. People will howl from the rooftops that there is no racial element, but there wasn't with Goodes either, remember? It was about everything but race, until one day it was about nothing else.
The discontent has largely followed the Indigenous All-Stars anthem 'protest' in February, (though the simple act of not singing the national anthem at a non-Test match is hardly confrontational).
Of all the criticisms levelled at the players since, supposedly being "ungrateful" has been a persistent one. It was certainly a prevalent view among the less enlightened in the lead-up and aftermath to the game: 'we give you the All-Stars game and this is how you repay us?'
It was a driving factor in the vitriol Goodes was subjected to when, as Australian of the Year, he sought to make people aware the January 26 is a day that holds a lot of pain for First Nations people.
The response, fanned by conservative media voices, was clear: 'how dare you take our award and use it to shame us'.
And therein lies the issue. There is a growing tendency for we non-Indigenous people to view even well-intentioned initiatives, like Indigenous Round, like Welcome to Country and other cultural acknowledgements, as some sort of gift we bestow. It's a patronising and counterproductive view.
That's why this year's NRL Indigenous Round is so different, it's anything but. For one it's genuinely player-driven, but it's about starting a real national conversation.
Kerr said this week, the Indigenous players knew their anthem stance would create a stir, but it was the price they were willing to pay to advance the discussion about the anthem and what it stands for.
I've spoken to several people since who now question whether a song, written pre-Federation by a Scotsman, and featuring lines like: 'here he raised Old England's flag, the standard of the brave, Britannia rules the wave', is really representative of modern, or ancient, Australia.
More importantly, the most productive discussions came with ARLC chairman Peter V'landys, who met with Indigenous players prior to the All-Stars match to understand their view.
He listened to some of the most influential voices, like Dean Widders and Joel Thompson, who's legitimately emerging as one of the most significant Indigenous voices in the game's history.
V'landys reflected on that this week in launching the round alongside Thompson, Widders and Professor Megan Davis.
"I was ashamed of myself when I left that meeting," he said.
"I was disappointed that I was unaware of their situation, the historical issues over our time and some of the things that they go through.
"We made a lot of mistakes with our Indigenous communities. We need to acknowledge those mistakes, and we don't want to make the same mistakes again."
What also sets this year apart is the clearly stated intention to challenge racism. It might not all be as fun as watching Nathan Blacklock doing back flips before kickoff, but it's necessary to bring about tangible outcomes and effect real change. There's no reason we can't have both.
Speak to any Indigenous player and they'll tell you it's not about dwelling on the past only that it, and Indigenous culture more broadly, must be acknowledged to move forward.
It might start a new conversation about gratitude and where it should lie in rugby league. For me, I think of the man who first taught me to love footy. To that end, all I can say is: thanks Pearl. For everything.