Timana Tahu wasn’t joking when he said during the week that the Koori vs Murri Interstate Challenge match was like tribal warfare.
Standing next to Tahu in the Newcastle Yowies’ dressing room pre-match on Friday, you could feel the passion of how much this game means.
The room was buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm.
Walk around the shed and you can see the desire to succeed in the players’ eyes.
It’s in every back slap and strongly worded motivational speech too.
This was no ordinary game of footy.
You see, these blokes had an opportunity to become the best Indigenous side in Australia by beating the Queensland Murri champions, the Southern Dingoes.
And thanks to Tahu, we have all access to the game to give you an inside look at the pride and passion of what it means to be a Yowie.
For the Knights’ veteran winger, this Interstate match is everything.
Tahu has been captain-coach of the Yowies for the past six years, while his association with Aboriginal Knockouts dates back to the early 90s.
His wife Kasey’s grandfather is also the founder of the Newcastle Yowies Sports Club and it’s with great pride that he has the opportunity to carry on his legacy.
Unfortunately on this occasion, Tahu is still recovering from a knee reconstruction and can't play.
It’s a reality that’s extremely hard to cop for the Newcastle fan favourite.
“It’s killing Timana that he isn’t donning the boots”, the Yowies’ sports trainer tells me in the sheds.
“This is his team.”
So with that well and truly in mind, Tahu goes to work with the clipboard to get his boys across the line.
He stands in the middle of the shed and rallies his troops together for one final team talk.
“This is it boys, here is your chance,” Tahu pleads.
“Go out there and represent your people, yourself and this jumper with pride.
“Show those blokes from Queensland that this is our turf and we are not going to let up.”
It’s a speech that hits the mark, with the Yowies’ players leaving the sheds pumped up and ready to play.
So we follow Tahu out to his prime position on the sideline ready for the big match to get underway.
Prior to kick-off, Timana tells me to watch out for the opening exchanges to be bruising.
And from the opening whistle, the big hits dominate proceedings.
It's clear there's certainly no love lost between the two sides.
Tahu, though, remains calm during this period and sticks to his sideline seat like glue.
The Yowies’ overcome an early physical barrage from the Dingoes to open the scoring six minutes into the opening quarter.
At this point, Tahu’s excitement levels lift considerably and he jumps out of his seat to high-five and bark orders.
The Yowies are starting to take control, so the Knights’ legend sends out of his instructions to maintain the rage.
It’s a message that’s heard, with Tahu’s men crossing for another two tries to take a comfortable 14-6 lead at the halftime break.
So we head for the sheds for a much needed rest and some more inspirational words from Timana.
As much as his team are in control, from experience Tahu knows that they can’t afford to let up because their Queensland rivals will come out harder in the second half.
It’s a message Timana reinforces to his charges in the sheds, demanding they maintain their standards.
“They will hit back guys, so we need to keep focused,” he stresses.
Tahu was exactly right, with the Dingoes lifting the intensity in the third quarter to draw closer to the Yowies.
A converted try from the Queensland side just after halftime reduces the lead to just two points and we’re in for one blockbuster final quarter.
The momentum is with the Dingoes at this stage and Tahu knows it.
So he pulls his players in for one final huddle, a chance to remind them exactly who they are playing for.
“Look at your jumper boys, that’s what you are representing,” Tahu says.
“We’ve got the lead, so let’s finish it off.”
The final quarter is intense, with both teams throwing everything they have at each other.
It’s end-to-end stuff that has Tahu pacing the sidelines like an expectant father.
The Knights’ winger is nervous, real nervous.
As time goes on though, the Yowies start to regain control and land the killer blow with a try to extend their lead to 18-12.
It’s an advantage the Newcastle side would hold onto to give Tahu yet another title to add to his already overflowing trophy cabinet.
Sure the game was intense and with plenty on the line, but at full-time the players all shake hands and share stories.
Because as much as the Koori vs Murri match is like tribal warfare, at the end of the day it’s just a game of rugby league.
The Knights take on the First Nations Goannas at Hunter Stadium on Saturday. Gates open at 3pm, at 3.15pm NSW Indigenous Women take on QLD Indigenous Women and at 4.50pm NSW Indigenous U16 Boys play against QLD Indigenous U16 Boys. The Knights v Goannas match kicks off at 7pm. A reminder Troy Cassar-Daley is performing prior to the main match. Tickets available through Ticketmaster or at the gate. We hope to see you at Hunter Stadium this afternoon!