Pressure Points: Craig Fitzgibbon has proven himself in the NRL – now, he needs to show that Sharks aren’t flat track bullies
The Sharks coach has been super impressive through 50 NRL games, but his record in finals has to improve.
The Cronulla Sharks have had an incredible season.
Under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon, the Sharks have all but secured their place in the top four with the only outstanding question being whether they will get the benefit of a home game in week one of the finals.
Whilst much has been written about the culture that Fitzgibbon has helped to instil at the club, there are of course many working behind the scenes to ensure that the Sharks are not only successful on the field, but off it too.
One of those people is Rachal Allen.
Allen is a proud Gamilaroi woman with her family coming from Gamilaroi country as far back as can be traced. Most of her family members still live on Gamilaroi country and remain very connected with local community.
“My family is big and close so we have a real connection to culture,” said Allen.
“My grandfather is 80 years old and growing up, did not necessarily have the best experience growing up on a mission so it has been interesting to watch him open up about his experiences over the last couple of years.
“We have always been connected but have become even more so in recent years with the older generation gets a bit older; this is confronting but good.”
As for Allen, she has been working with the Sharks as their Indigenous Programs Coordinator since 2020. An Aboriginal Health Practitioner by trade, Allen has almost a decade of experience in Indigenous programs and services whilst working primarily in the health, wellbeing and education fields.
Her dad worked for the New South Wales Land Council and her mother works for the Aboriginal Medical Service so Allen always thought that it was the norm for Aboriginal people to work in Aboriginal organisations and she followed in her parents footsteps.
Her knowledge and learning from her professional background has been of significant benefit to her role at the Sharks where she has been responsible for the implementation and delivery of numerous strategic projects to drive engagement, inclusion and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, athletes, and community members.
Allen is also the Chair of the Cronulla Sharks Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group, working towards developing and implementing frameworks to provide meaningful impact towards the journey of reconciliation in Australia.
“I come from a health background and this role with the Sharks has allowed me to continue to work in a space I love, providing health and wellbeing education to young people and community groups,” said Allen.
“I love my job here at the Sharks as I’ve always been a massive footy fan and now I get to use my love of football as a way to get people talking and thinking about issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“But for all the work I get to do out in the community, I’m also working with the team at the Sharks to make our club a more welcoming and culturally safe environment for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in our community and Sharks family.”
While Indigenous Round is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the contribution that Indigenous players have had in rugby league, for Allen, this is work that must happen all year round.
The Sharks are currently the only NRL club in New South Wales delivering the Deadly Choices Program through the club with the delivery of some positive outcomes for the wider community.
The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks completed in the Shire have increased from approximately 20 per year, to over 120.
The Sharks have worked with Vitalis Family Medical Practice in Kirrawee and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District to help encourage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the community to get their CVOID19 vaccinations supported by players like Wade Graham.
Through this Program, the Sharks have also been able to improve their relationship with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community both in the Shire and also in Coffs Harbour as part of the Sharks taking footy to the regions.
“This is something we do all year around at the Sharks,” said Allen.
“The Sharks have six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our first grade team, which is huge.
“We have these young men come and play for the Sharks and expect them to put their culture on display, which they do proudly, but we can’t just do it for Indigenous Round, we have a responsibility to these players but also to our wider community.”