Dean Widders Returns to Armidale for UAA/NIAS Indigenous Talent Identification Day

The Northern Inland Academy of Sport (NIAS) is proud to welcome NRL legend and former NIAS athlete, Dean Widders, as a guest coach at the upcoming UAA/NIAS Indigenous Talent ID Day on Wednesday, 26th June. Dean will be coaching and mentoring young athletes, offering them a unique opportunity to learn from his extensive experience and insights. Media are invited to attend the event, and Dean Widders will be available for comment.

Dean Widders: From NIAS Athlete to NRL Legend
Dean Widders’ journey from a young athlete in Armidale to a celebrated figure in the National Rugby League (NRL) is a narrative steeped in talent, determination, and a profound connection to his origins. Raised in Armidale, New South Wales, Dean’s formative years were shaped by his exceptional sporting abilities, fostered within the nurturing environment of the Northern Inland Academy of Sport (NIAS) Rugby League program. Under the stewardship of CEO Shona Eichorn, NIAS became the crucible for Dean’s athletic prowess, imbuing him with values of perseverance, teamwork, and leadership.

Reflecting on his early beginnings, Dean shared, “Being a part of NIAS gave us access to the same level of elite coaching that was available to players in Sydney. It was an opening to training at the elite level of the game, and the training we got was above what was available regionally. It gave us the best possible start and exposed us to the best practices and most up to date techniques used in our sport.”

Dean emphasised the challenges faced by athletes in regional areas, noting that “access to elite coaching, training, and competition can be very restricted in regional areas due to the remote locations of the competitions. They are so far away from each other that athletes just don’t have the same access,” he said.

One of the highlights of Dean’s involvement with NIAS was meeting other elite sportsmen from around the region. “Meeting a lot of elite sportsmen who were on their journey while I was on mine, we learned a lot from each other,” he said.

Dean fondly recalls playing touch footy with Shona Eichorn, the current CEO of NIAS, in the Armidale Touch Association Mixed Open rep side during the 1990s. “Shona was exactly the same then as she is now, passionate about giving country kids opportunities in sport,” he said. Notably, Shona served as CEO of NIAS from its inception in 1992 until 1997. During this time, Dean was part of the NIAS Rugby League Squad, sponsored by the Sydney Roosters. It was through the visits of the late NRL legend Artie Beetson, the Roosters’ talent scout, that Dean’s talent was discovered.

Inspiring the Next Generation
Dean Widders is eager to see the young athletes come together at the UAA/NIAS Indigenous Talent ID Day. “I’m most looking forward to seeing all the athletes come together and teaching them a little bit about what to expect along their journey,” he said. “I just really encourage kids to come along, participate, have a go, and see what’s out there.”

Dean also spoke about the challenges he faced transitioning from regional sports to the elite level. “One of the biggest challenges for me, coming from Armidale and NIAS, was relocating to Sydney and getting used to the competitiveness of elite sports at the professional level,” he said. His journey from NIAS to the NRL serves as an inspiration to young athletes in regional areas who dream of success at an elite level.

Embracing Indigenous Traditions
Dean’s commitment to preserving Indigenous culture within the sporting arena finds expression through initiatives like the Araatika project. This groundbreaking endeavour seeks to introduce an Australian rendition of the New Zealand Rugby Haka, celebrating Indigenous heritage on a national platform. Collaborating with cultural luminaries such as Wesley Enoch and Stephen Page, Dean advocates for the recognition and celebration of Indigenous identity within rugby culture.

UAA Indigenous Talent ID Day Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 26th June
  • Time: 10am – 2pm
  • Location: Armidale Secondary College

The UAA Indigenous Talent ID Day, hosted by NIAS, is an annual event dedicated to identifying and nurturing Indigenous athletic talent across the Northern Inland region. Young athletes aged 13 to 16 are invited to participate in a day filled with sports activities, fitness testing, and mentorship from experienced coaches, including Dean Widders. Selected athletes will receive invitations to join the NIAS Sports Programs selection trials later in the year, offering further opportunities to develop their skills and pursue their sporting

Eligibility: Open to both male and female athletes aged 13 to 16 in 2024, who are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and currently reside within the Local Government Area of the Northern Inland.

To register, click here. For more information and enquiries, please contact the NIAS office at [email protected] or call (02) 6766 2526.