Support allows Tahu a chance to move on
It took more than two years, but Timana Tahu finally received closure on one of the most unsavoury incidents in Origin history when members of the Indigenous All Stars thanked him for walking out on the NSW team over racist comments by assistant coach Andrew Johns.
Tahu, who quit the Blues camp in the lead-up to the second match of the 2010 Origin series after Johns made racial comments about Greg Inglis and other Queensland players during a team bonding session, was publicly vilified for his stance and the fallout from the incident threatened to derail his return to the NRL after a stint in rugby union.
However, he was invited to join the NRL's indigenous players leadership group and teammates at a camp on the Sunshine Coast last week let him now how much they appreciated the personal sacrifices he made.
''A lot of the boys spoke at our camp last weekend about what a great thing it was that he did and they expressed their support for him,'' said NRL welfare and education manager Dean Widders, a former teammate of Tahu's and one of the organisers of the first NRL indigenous player camps.
''Even though a lot of them had their hands tied at the time in terms of being able to speak out on that issue because they were told not to comment, they said he was someone they looked up to and I think it was good for him to hear that.
''When I came on board with the NRL, they already had a leadership group set up among the players and I thought Timana should be on that too, so I put the question to the boys and Greg [Inglis] and Johnathan Thurston and all the others said what he did in giving up an Origin jersey to stand up for his brothers in the other team was one of the most powerful things anyone has ever done.
''Now he can move on from that and look forward to this game knowing that the boys have got his back, even though a lot of them couldn't say anything at the time.''
After training alongside the likes of Inglis, Thurston and Justin Hodges for the first time on Monday, Tahu said he feared he would never get to represent the Indigenous All Stars after being denied the chance to play in the inaugural match in 2009 due to an outstanding suspension that preceded his code-switch.
''I treat this jumper the same as a NSW or Australian jumper so that was hard,'' Tahu said. ''That was the first game and that is what you want to be a part of because that is what is going to be remembered in years to come - the first team.''
However, things were going to get a lot harder after Tahu stormed out of the NSW camp and found himself on the outer at Parramatta as he struggled to cope with the fallout.
''He took a stand for what he believed in and I stood behind him but a lot of people gave up on him and he copped a big kick in the guts,'' Inglis said.
''We have come a long way since 1967 when the referendum was held [recognising Aboriginal people as Australian citizens] but racism should definitely never be tolerated and obviously Timana stood up and made his stand and as a fellow indigenous player I am very proud of him.''
Despite the fact he was standing up against racism, Tahu said that at times he felt like the one in the wrong and even questioned whether he had done the right thing.
However, being chosen by All Stars coach Laurie Daley to play in Saturday night's match at Suncorp Stadium has vindicated his decision and he believes others will now feel empowered to follow his lead.
''The strangest thing is that I had never been on drinking binges, I had never been in domestic violence or drug cases and in some ways I got painted as bad as what players in the past have for those sort of things,'' Tahu said.
''I probably took the brunt of it and got smashed a bit but I think where I am standing today - playing for the Indigenous All Stars and back in a rep jumper - I think the boys can see, 'Yeah, we can do that.'
''It is not just indigenous players but [among] all races ... I think I have probably made people stronger. If they get faced with that they can make a stance and say enough is enough.
''I think there is a lot more awareness of what people need to say and I think coaches and staff are a lot more aware so I think it is a good thing.
''I did a positive thing and everyone knows that and I have got heaps of support from the players and the staff so I am just happy being here and playing.''
Sydney Morning Herald