By Jim Tucker
Kye Oates has just won the biggest gong in Queensland club rugby as Alec Evans Medallist yet an unseen Thursday night ritual is as big a mark on 2021.
Away from any fanfare, Oates and his University of Queensland teammates all wear Indigenous training jerseys. Every Thursday night. All season.
It will be the case again on Thursday at the team’s last major session before Sunday’s 1pm grand final against GPS in the Brisbane club grand final at Suncorp Stadium.
It’s not a photo opp with a 24-hour lifespan. It’s part of a season-long theme to get more connected to each other and their club so it shows off and on the field.
Winger Kye, 22, and brother BJ, 23, are proudly Indigenous and collaborated with head coach Mick Heenan to introduce something different to Thursday nights.
“Our mob is from North Stradbroke Island. My cousins did the original painting for the university and when ‘Heeno’ saw it we discussed it for a jersey,” Kye said.
“We got permission and we now wear that jersey every Thursday night for training.
“I’ve had a few sessions where I’ve been able to explain to the boys the connection to land and how important that is to Aboriginal people.
“It’s really special to be able to share that from my culture and feel that it has helped us build a stronger connection as a rugby team.
“The jersey itself is all about connection…the dotted branches from the jacaranda tree winding from the back of the jersey and the UQ campuses of Herston (blue), St Lucia (purple) and Gatton (orange) being connecting on the front.
“There are footprints as a pathway.
The jersey idea has resonated with University lock and skipper Pat Morrey.
“Kye is more of a leader than he realises. He’s a driver of the culture within our team,” Morrey said.
“The way he explains it, you get to know your mates, where they are from and what the game means through the stories we are now more active in telling each other.”
Fellow winger BJ (13) is the highest tryscorer in the Hospital Challenge Cup this season while goalkicker Kye has six tries among his points tally of 175.
The brothers from Central Queensland do feed off each other on the field. Anyone who saw them play Easts earlier in the season got the full blast when Kye counter-attacked on a kick return and fed a short ball to his flying brother for a try.
“It’s a weird one. Sometimes you just know where BJ is going to be, other times he just pops up from nowhere. Not everyone gets to enjoy playing with their brother,” Kye said.
The brothers form a potent attacking back three with fullback Mac Grealy.