Rugby league returns on Saturday.
It is that time of year again as we approach a new season of NRL and with that the league’s now traditional curtain raiser is set to come our way this weekend as the Indigenous All Stars takes on the Maori All Stars in one of the most cultured games the sport has to offer. The 2021 edition will be the tenth instalment of the All Stars match but the third between the Indigenous and Maori sides, with the first coming back in the 2019.
The Maori outfit come into this one as last year’s winner after a surprising 30-16 win over Laurie Daley’s Indigenous side. However, it could be a much more difficult affair for David Kidwell’s Maori team this year with Victoria’s recent border closures forcing players to pull out of the match altogether. Even with these omissions, there will still be plenty of incredible talent on show as the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton, Benji Marshall, Jarome Luai and Joe Tapine all set to feature in the match.
This year sees the fixture break a new ground once again as it will be held at Townsville on the land of the Wulgurukaba people for the first time as Daley’s Indigenous side look to avenge last year’s loss. All in all, this intense showdown brings together two proud and fascinating cultures for one of the biggest spectacles on the rugby league calendar and without a doubt it will be one not to miss.
Indigenous: Mitchell, Ferguson, Wighton, Ramien, Johnston, Walker, Fogarty, A Fifita, Cotter, Kerr, D Fifita, Fuimaono, Peachey, Thompson, Taunoa-Brown, Cust, Smith, Saddler, Curran, Kelly.
Maori: Nicoll-Klokstad, Watene-Zelezniak, Manu, Walker, Herbert, Luai, Marshall, Packer, Marhsall-King, Fisher-Harris, Nikora, Riki, Tapine, Luke, Pere, Musgrove, Topine, Marsters.
The state of Victoria’s border closures due to COVID restrictions have had their effect on both sides as Victoria-based players have had to depart the initial squads. For the Indigenous side, it means Melbourne speedster Josh Addo-Carr sits out with Gold Coast’s Corey Thompson coming in.
Wade Graham also misses out due to a perforated eardrum so Zac Saddler comes into replace the Sharks skipper and Tyrell Fuimaono has been moved into the starting 13. Also, after missing the end of last season with a hamstring injury, Mitchell returns to the rugby league field and will continue to take up his new preferred full-back spot.
The Maori All Stars have felt the full force of Victoria’s border closures though as Reimis Smith, Brandon Smith, Kenny Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jahrome Hughes are all ruled out.
These more than notable omissions mean that Issac Luke, Esan Marsters, Russell Packer, Emry Pere, Jackson Topine and Daejarn Asi are the new names in the Maori squad.
Kevin Proctor sits out due to injury so Tigers prop Zane Musgrove has also been called up while Benji Marshall will mark his first appearance in a Maori All Stars jersey alongside the likes of Joey Manu, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jarome Luai, Patrick Herbert and Bailey Simonsson.
Players to watch
An all Stars match-up always brings with its elite players and one who has proven to be just that in recent seasons is that of Latrell Mitchell. The 23-year-old Indigenous representative has quickly established himself as one of the league’s most exciting stars and before his injury towards the end of last season he was beginning to show great adaptability in his new full-back position.
Even without their Melbourne stars, the Maori side still have plenty of top tier talent in their midst with Joseph Manu being just that. The Roosters’ centre is now undoubtedly one of the best players in the world at his position with his ball skills and ability to find his way through tackles setting him apart from most.
With so many high calibre talents on show it is hard to narrow it to just one player match-up but one that could standout amongst the rest is the one between Cody Walker and Jarome Luai. Both half-backs come off fantastic seasons last year and possess great deals of creativity and skill with the ball that can easily see them be the key catalyst for their retrospective sides.
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Saturday, February 20 – 9.05am (UK time) – Sky Sports Arena or Watch NRL