Mark Ella went on to become one of the all-time legends of Australian rugby union, but it was the 13-man code he and his brothers grew up playing.
In a fantastic sit-down chat on Inside Sport’s NRL podcast “Dead In Goal”, Ella shares the very interesting yarn about how it was that he and his siblings and members of his extended family came to be linked with The Game They Play In Heaven rather than The Greatest Game Of All.
“I grew up at La Perouse; my family, we grew up playing rugby league,” Ella tells Dead In Goal. “My uncle Bruce ‘Lapa’ Stewart played a lot of rugby league for the Roosters. We grew up following Eric Simms, Lummy Longbottom; those guys were just legends.
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“Of the seven boys in my family, we all played rugby league. My three brothers were centres, there were another three brothers who played fullback, and I played 12 years of rugby league as a hooker.”
These days Ella is Head of Sport at Australia’s Indigenous television channel, NITV, who will be proudly broadcasting the annual NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout – more commonly and lovingly referred to as simply the Koori Knockout – this Sunday, September 30 and Monday, October 1.
In an added boost for the exposure of the annual event, SBS will join NITV in broadcasting the carnival’s grand final clashes on the Monday from 9am-5.30pm at Dubbo's Apex Oval.
Regarded by many as one of the best rugby union players Australia has ever produced, Ella appeared in Wallaby gold 25 times between 1980 and 1984, including ten as captain. He has been described by former team-mate David Campese as "the best rugby player I have ever known or seen". Similarly, rugby league legend Wally Lewis, a team-mate of Ella’s in the 1977/78 Australian Rugby Union Schoolboys side, once described Ella as the best player he'd seen in rugby union or rugby league.
Despite Ella’s brilliant union career, the arrival of the rugby league Koori Knockout each year brings back fantastic memories of his league journey as a youngster. He is proud of his league past and of NITV’s commitment to one of the great indigenous events in Australia each year.