The Sydney Roosters have given the green light to star centre Latrell Mitchell to skip the upcoming World Club Challenge in order to join the Indigenous All-Stars for their match against the New Zealand Maori.
The World Cup Challenge is slated to go down in Wigan in England on February 17, while the Harvey Norman All-Stars match is slated to take place two days prior. Mitchell was essentially forced to choose between the two as a result, and he opted to represent his family and Indigenous heritage in Australia instead of traveling to England.
As it stands, the Indigenous side will be the odds-on favorites to win the match over the new Kiwi side. Those that regularly bet on rugby will know that All-Star events like this can be tough to peg from a wagering perspective, but the Indigenous side would seem to have an edge in terms of overall talent.
It was a difficult decision for Mitchell, but it helped to have the blessing of Roosters manager Trent Robinson. Despite being just 21, Mitchell knows how important the event is to his people and family. Mitchell is the lone member of the Roosters that will be participating in the All-Star event. This will be the first time the event will include a Maori team since its inception back in 2010.
Players like South Sydney’s Dane Gagai, Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga, North Queensland’s Jordan McLean and Penrith’s James Tamou are slated to play for the Maori side despite having previously opted to play for Australia’s national team instead of New Zealand’s.
Mitchell will team with James Roberts on an imposing backline for the squad. Mitchell’s teammate with Sydney, Joseph Manu, opted to play for the Roosters in Wigan rather than participating with the Maori side at the All-Star event. Ryan James was initially planning on playing for the Indigenous team before suffering a knee injury that will keep him from playing in the match. James’ replacement has not yet been named.
Ponga will be paired with Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes in what should be a dynamic tandem in the halves. This will be a trial run at the position for Ponga, who is set to switch from fullback to five-eighth at the club level. This will be Gagai’s fourth appearance for the Indigenous All-Stars.
The Kiwi side will feature a decorated pack of forwards that includes Melbourne’s Brandon Smith and Jesse Bromwich in addition to Kevin Proctor of the Titans and Tohu Harris and Adam Blair of the Warriors.
Greg Inglis of Rabbitohs was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. Manly’s Joel Thompson was forced out with a calf problem, while Titans halfback Ash Taylor will be sidelined with a shoulder issue. New Zealand Test captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will also be unavailable for the match on the Maori side with a knee injury of his own.
The All-Star match did not take place last year after being played for the first time back in 2010. The New Zealand Maori side will be replacing a team of World All-Stars that had previously played in the game against the Indigenous side. A women’s match will also take place just prior to the main match, which will get underway at 8:00pm.
A few other notable players participating are Esan Marsters (Tigers), Dean Whare (Panthers), Peta Hiku (Warriors) and Gerard Beale (Warriors). They will be playing for the Kiwi side, while Tyrone Peachey (Titans), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Josh Addo-Carr (Storm) and Blake Ferguson (Eels) will also be included in the Indigenous team.