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Sharks fullback Will Kennedy.

When he gets the chance, Will Kennedy visits the Kirinari Aboriginal Hostel in Sylvania where he lived for more than two years as he chased his NRL dream.

"Just to get down there and play with the boys, it means a lot to them," says the recently re-signed Sharks fullback, who departed Bathurst to move into the hostel while attending Endeavour Sports High.

"Because if I was there and someone came down, it'd mean a lot to me as well. So I like to do what I wished that players would do."

Speaking before NRL Indigenous Round, in which Cronulla will face the Gold Coast at Coffs Harbour on Sunday, Kennedy reiterates the importance he places on embracing his culture.

A proud Gamilaroi man whose family hails from Walgett in northern NSW, Kennedy's totems are the eagle and emu.

Sharks fullback Will Kennedy.
Sharks fullback Will Kennedy. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

His tribe - along with those of the Sharks' other First Nations players - is represented on the team's Indigenous jersey designed by prop Andrew Fifita and local Elder Aunty Deanna Schreiber.

"This round means a lot for my culture and family," Kennedy says.

"I think [totems] are just from where we're from, our area. It means a lot to our culture and our background from many years ago. 

"I learnt off my Mum and Dad and my Nan as well about culture. I think it's a big part that all Indigenous people can learn a lot from ... I think they're teaching it more in schools and whatnot, which is good to learn what we've been through and how far we've come."

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Having found his feet in first grade, Kennedy's two-year contract extension was announced on Thursday. With an increasing profile has come an opportunity to be an Indigenous leader. 

"It shows when the kids come in [to the Sharks club]; just how they look at me," says Kennedy, who made his NRL debut in 2019.

"I used to be in their shoes as well, looking up to players - and Indigenous players especially - just thinking, 'I want to do that one day'. To do it today, it's very special.

"Coming from the country, just representing our people from there and showing kids that anything's possible and you can make it from anywhere, no matter where you're from and what culture you are.

"Moving to a hostel with 20 other Aboriginal boys played a really big role in my life. Coming from a close family - Aboriginal families are mostly tight and connected - moving away was hard.

"It shows how all us young boys can move away from homes and come together as one. It's good, how it played out in my life as well, because if I didn't go there, I wouldn't be where I am today."

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The 24-year-old listed Preston Campbell, Rhys Wesser, Johnathan Thurston and his father, William Kennedy, as his Indigenous idols.

'Bubba' Kennedy played for Balmain in the late 1990s and is a bush footy legend who, at 52, has laced up the boots again this year.

"He came back for one game and I think he's back for one more season because my uncle Steven Lane is playing as well and he said come along. They're a duo, so they come together," Kennedy Jr says.

"He still does Indigenous artwork, he enjoys doing that and loves it. A couple of times I've done it with him, which is pretty special. I enjoyed it as well, just embracing our culture and coming together."

Kennedy is rapt with the Indigenous jersey, which features a big handprint on the front to represent the Dharawal people, the traditional custodians of the Sutherland Shire land.

Smaller handprints on the back of the strip symbolise the nations of Cronulla captain Wade Graham (Bundjalung), Fifita and Jesse Ramien (Wiradjuri) and Kennedy and Braydon Trindall (Gamilaroi).

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"They all put a handprint to represent where we're in a circle, which means that we're all coming together," Kennedy says.

Ramien acknowledges Fifita's contribution to the artwork.

"Big Drewy wanted to jump in and have a go at designing it this year. The club gave him the go-ahead," Ramien says.

"I think he's done an unreal job."

After suffering a facial fracture little more than a fortnight ago in a loss to the Panthers, Ramien didn't expect to be fit for Indigenous Round but is thrilled to be able to take part in the occasion.

The centre will wear boots, custom painted by Darren Dunn, that he also wore in the All Stars match.

"It's a time for the little Indigenous kids back out in our communities where we're from to be proud and look up to us," Ramien says.

"It's a time of celebration for our people. It's a massive weekend and I get up right up for it. I'm pretty sure everyone else does too."

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