Friday night sees the return of the All Stars game between the Indigenous All Stars and the Maori All Stars, played in Melbourne for the first time.
It’s arguably the most important pre-season game and deserves to be viewed as more than a glorified trial match.
It was a big deal when launched in 2010: the Indigenous All-Stars won infront of over 26,000 fans attending Gold Coast’s Skilled Park, Johnathan Thurston won the first of two Preston Campbell Medals and Wendell Sailor celebrated a try by playing the corner post like a didgeridoo among dancing teammates. It was a huge boost for Indigenous players to embrace their heritage outside of club, Origin and Test football. The Indigenous team won four of the first seven games (16-12 in 2010, 32-6 in 2013, 20-6 in 2015 and 34-8 in 2017), with the NRL All Stars winning two in a row in 2011-12 (28-12 and 36-28).
Women’s matches were introduced in 2011, with the Women’s All Stars winning five out of six games.
Gradually, priorities shifted and the NRL All Stars were replaced by the World All Stars for 2016 and 2017, opening selection to NRL players from all nationalities.
Rested in 2018 following the World Cup, the All Star game’s received an exciting reboot.
The success of the Pacific Tests and Tonga’s amazing World Cup shows the NRL needs to encourage Pacific rugby league, so it’s a perfect time to include the Maori All Stars. If the Maori All Stars do well, could they be added to an extended Pacific Test series? If nothing else, it should establish the Indigenous All Stars v Maori All Stars as a traditional February fixture. The venue is also important: Melbourne is coveted territory for the NRL, and with the big Origin crowds and the Storm’s success, it’s a reward for Victorians embracing rugby league.
To get you excited for Friday night (live on Nine and Fox League), check out the teams:
Indigenous All Stars
Bevan French (Eels), Blake Ferguson (Eels), James Roberts (Broncos), Latrell Mitchell (Roosters), Josh Addo-Carr (Storm), Cody Walker (Rabbitohs), Tyrone Roberts (Titans), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Nathan Peats (Titans), Josh Kerr (Dragons), David Fifita (Broncos), Adam Elliott (Bulldogs), Tyrone Peachey (Titans). Interchange: Will Chambers (Storm), Leilani Latu (Titans), Chris Smith (Bulldogs), Alex Johnston (Rabbitohs), Jesse Ramien (Knights), Tyrell Fuimaono (Panthers), Kotoni Staggs (Broncos).
New Zealand Māori All Stars
Peta Hiku (Warriors), Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs), Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), Dean Whare (Panthers), Jordan Kahu (Broncos), Kalyn Ponga (Knights), Jahrome Hughes (Storm), Jesse Bromwich (Storm), Brandon Smith (Storm), James Tamou (Panthers), Kevin Proctor (Titans), Tohu Harris (Warriors), Adam Blair (Warriors). Interchange: Danny Levi (Knights), Brad Takairangi (Eels), James Fisher-Harris (Panthers), Gerard Beale (Warriors), Corey Harawira-Naera (Bulldogs), Joseph Tapine (Raiders), Kenny Bromwich (Cowboys)