Indigenous stars light up Great Northern Football League

Victor TantiGeraldton Guardian
Adrian Bartlett.
Camera IconAdrian Bartlett. Credit: Supplied/MWSF

Indigenous players have always been a part of the GNFL — a rich history celebrated in the league’s YMAC Indigenous round.

In fact in 1899, way before the Great Northern Football League began in 1961, Indigenous man Tom Lavery was a star, and there is a team photo of Imperials in which he can be seen.

The GNFL’s highest individual award is the JJ Clune Medal, and Aub Gray was the first Indigenous player to win it, in 1968.

He’s been joined by Ashley Taylor, Revis Ryder, Jason and Dwayne Simpson, Darren Ryan Sr, Shane Bonney, David Little, Kristian Papertalk, and Jaimon Alone.

Mullewa's Shane Bonney.
Camera IconMullewa's Shane Bonney. Credit: Justine Rowe/SnapAction/Justine Rowe/SnapAction

Bob Ryan should be on that list, but that’s a story for another time.

The first Indigenous player to win the Guardian Medal for grand final best was Ray Joseph, in 1966.

Others are Charlie Comeagain, Jamie Spratt, Adrian Collard, Dwayne Simpson, Darren Ryan, Juan Robinson, Eric Papertalk, Sheldon Nelly, Jack Martin, Curtley Mow, Papertalk, and Tristan Simpson. Only seven players have 500 career goals, including Darren and Bob Ryan, while Dave Wallam has the record for most goals in a game — an amazing 23.

A Saint in the Doghouse. Kristian Papertalk is pursued by Towns pair, Willie Thorne, left, and Tom Collins.
Camera IconA Saint in the Doghouse. Kristian Papertalk is pursued by Towns pair, Willie Thorne, left, and Tom Collins. Credit: Justine Rowe/Justine Rowe

Jim Sandy and John Bed-ford both nailed 100 goals in a season.

Only 23 Indigenous players have 100 or more best-player listings, including Comeagain, Leon Jones, Darren and Bob Ryan, Ted Harvey and Revis Ryder.

Few have played 10 or more grand finals, and among them are Comeagain, Jones and Robert Colley.

There are more than two-dozen instances of three brothers in the same team, including Indigenous Comeagain, Wallam, Cross, Collard and Shiosaki trios, and we’ve seen four Parfitt and four Papertalk brothers.

Indigenous league coaches include Adrian Bartlett, Ashley Taylor, Charlie and Adrian Comeagain, Anthony Dann, Sandy, Alan Dick, Graham Kickett, Gus Mourish, Graham Taylor, Ryder, Trevor Simpson and Craig Walker. Mourish, Ryder, both Comeagains and Kickett won flags.

The GNFL has long been a VFL/AFL nursery, and among our Indigenous players listed at the top level are Darren Capewell, Troy Cook, Calib Mourish, Brad Dick, Jack Martin, Patrick Ryder, Josh Simpson and Liam Ryan.

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