It would be an understatement to say the Koori Knockout is a highlight of Maitland United's season.
The Indigenous rugby league club, formed in 1988, has been sending teams to the knockout since 2011. Coach Danny Vale said the team is excited and determined to do well.
"Straight after last year's knockout the first thing I thought of was getting to next year," he said.
"Throughout the season this year, I've based my game on how we're going to play this year at the knockout.
"We didn't have a very good season but still this is what I've based my season around and this is what we train for."
United play in Newcastle Hunter Rugby League's Men's C Grade North competition, losing their semi-final against Dungog on Sunday, August 27. Since then the Coronation Oval based club have been training for the Knockout alongside under-15s and under-17s teams.
Club president and United stalwart Paul Vale said it was great the club could send junior teams to the knockout, which runs from Friday, September 29 to Monday, October 2 at Tuggerah.
"It's definitely a great way to see any talent coming up through that is for sure - looking over there, you've got 50 young kids and they're going to be playing football for the next 20 to 30 years," he said.
The four-day competition is one of the largest gatherings of First Nations people in the country and dates back to 1971.
This year, more than 30,000 people are expected to attend the carnival, supporting the more than 130 teams playing.
Danny Vale said the event is more than a football carnival, giving family a chance to connect.
"Honestly I've been to more funerals than weddings and this is the only thing I go to lately that's happy and where I can see the rest of my family," he said.
"The only time I see my family otherwise is at funerals and stuff but when it comes to the knockout everyone's happy and enjoying themselves, it's actually good to be around everyone.
"As they say it's our modern day corroboree where our families and our communities get together, the boys get together and they love it, they bring their families - it's not just about football."
Women's and children's rounds will be held on Friday with United to play Campbelltown Ghost on Saturday morning.
Newcastle All Blacks are the defending champions and carnival hosts, Maitland Pickers centre Gary Anderson will line up for the All Blacks. Anderson is backing up a week after playing a staring role in Maitland's President's Cup win.
The Mindaribba Warriors will also be in action in the under-13s boys and under-17s boys.
"It's huge now, it's now on Kayo (Sports) and Fox Sports - that's massive. I remember when I was growing up it was only on NITV," Danny Vale said.
"For it to hit the mainstream and having the NRL websites promoting it just gives the young fellas so much more exposure."
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