Tyrell Sloan has launched an impassioned defence of the Koori Knockout, adamant NRL stars should be free to play in the tournament despite his injury and Josh Addo-Carr's involvement in a brawl.
Sloan limped away from this year's Indigenous tournament with a damaged left ankle, while Addo-Carr was banned for two matches by the NRL's integrity unit.
Addo-Carr later claimed he was "knocked out" and "put to sleep" in a game during the grand-final weekend event, while defending the tournament that features a number of NRL players.
The event is not sanctioned by the NRL, but contracted players are insured when given permission by their clubs to play.
The setbacks have prompted questions over players' involvement in next year's tournament in Bathurst, but Sloan is adamant the positives outweigh the risks.
"People don't see the things at the Knockout that we see," the St George Illawarra fullback said.
"There are a lot of teams that travel from country that are 10 or 12 hours away.
"A lot of kids that don't get to see NRL players, and even older men that don't get to experience the NRL or get exposed to that talent.
"Just coming up against Latrell Mitchell or Addo-Carr. Saying 'I got to tackle them', or 'I got bumped off by the boys'.
"We don't do it for the footy, we do it for our community. And that's what I want everyone to know. It's about my mob getting together. It's the biggest corroboree."
Sloan's injury, combined with a pre-existing thumb complaint, has affected his Dragons pre-season and coach Shane Flanagan's plans to toughen him up with boxing.
The Wiradjuri man expects clubs to question whether they grant permission for players to take part in the future, but hopes to be involved next year.
"That's probably the decision it's going to come to now in the next year," Sloan said.
"Foxx (Addo-Carr)'s incident was a big one and mine wasn't too publicised, but I tell you what, my coach wasn't too happy.
"He was just a bit pissed because he had a big pre-season set up.
"It's a risk-reward you take. I came out the wrong end of it and so did Foxxy.
"But at the end of the day, my focus is putting a smile on those kids' faces ... It's not always about the footy. It's about the next generation coming through."
Sloan said there was an increased physicality to the tournament compared to the NRL, as well as more high shots and leniency from referees.
But he insisted there was no need for NRL involvement, backing the current organisers.
"There's over 64 men's teams, a lot of kids' teams, a lot of women's teams. And there is a lot of care there," Sloan said.
"People just think it's Black fellas turning up and playing footy and getting their head bashed in.
"But there's a lot of doctors there. I went to see the physios straight after I did my ankle.
"It's set up how an NRL carnival would be set up. It's nothing different.
"First experience, you get your head taken off. But it's fun. You get that contact you don't usually get.
"I like playing knockout footy because it is tougher. I just keep coming back to those kids. It's just all about them."
Australian Associated Press