Johnathan Thurston: How rugby star daughter's doll captivated Australia

Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston takes a moment in the centre of the field with his daughter Frankie Thurston at ANZ Stadium on 4 October 2015 in Sydney, Australia. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thurston and his daughter Frankie

A dark-skinned doll brought on to the pitch at the end of the Australian Rugby League final has become the talking point of the game.

The doll was carried by the daughter of Johnathan Thurston, captain of the winning team, North Queensland Cowboys.

Thurston is an indigenous Australian, as was, for the first time in the league's history, his counterpart, Justin Hodges of the Brisbane Broncos.

It has been seen by many as a moment of inclusion and diversity.

Australian sport, in particular Aussie Rules football, has been marred by racism against indigenous players.

The country has also seen heated discussion on whether it should recognise indigenous people in its constitution, and repeal clauses that prevent people of a certain race from voting and allow laws to be made based on race.

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The match was the first time two Queensland teams had faced each other in the final.

Thurston also kicked the winning goal on Sunday which sent North Queensland to their 17-16 victory in extra time.

Australians on social media applauded the images of the emotional captain sitting on the pitch with two-year-old Frankie - wearing a Cowboys jersey - and her doll.

Image copyright @Msloulou77
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Some drew attention to the racism controversy affecting Aussie Rules.

Adam Goodes, an indigenous Australian who plays for the Swans, decided to take time out of the game after being plagued with booing whilst he was on the pitch.

Image copyright @dogactsforever

Critics said the taunts were because Goodes was an unpopular player, but supporters said the 2014 Australian of the Year was being punished for being vocal on indigenous issues.

The booing came to a head after he performed a "war cry" dance during the May Indigenous round of Australian Football League (AFL), which celebrates the contribution of indigenous players.

His distress over the incident led to an outpouring of support for him.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Johnathan Thurston was seen consoling the Broncos captain, Justin Hodges, after the NRL final.

Nova Peris, the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, and now a senator in the Australian parliament, said at the time that the saga showed Australia "has a problem with the truth of Aboriginal people".

'Significant moment'

Speaking before the final, Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council chairwoman Linda Burney said having two indigenous captains in the final meant Rugby League was about to experience its "Cathy Freeman moment".

The Australian athletics star became the second indigenous Australian woman to win an Olympic gold, during the Sydney Games in 2000.

"It is a very significant moment in the sport of Rugby League, but in particular the story of Aboriginal participation in Rugby League," Ms Burney told The Australian on Thursday.

NRL welfare manager Dean Widders described it as a "milestone" that demonstrates the league appreciates indigenous players and "can provide a lesson to the wider Australian community".

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