Live rugby league returns to Sky Sports viewers’ screens on Saturday morning with the men’s and women’s NRL All Star games.
The matches pit the Australian Indigenous team against the New Zealand Maori side, with a capacity crowd of 25,000 expected to be in attendance at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
Here, we take a look at some talking points and the teams ahead of the clashes in Townsville…
The New Zealand Maori team has a history stretching back to the birth of rugby league Down Under, having first toured Australia in 1908 and been a regular opponent for international touring teams throughout the years.
Coached by former player and ex-New Zealand international and head coach David Kidwell, the Maoris come into the match as the reigning All Star game champions after their 30-16 win over the Indigenous side last year.
The closure of Victoria’s state border following a Covid-19 outbreak means they will be without Melbourne Storm players Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Reimis and Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
However, Kidwell still has plenty of talent at his disposal as the Maoris aim to retain the Arthur Beetson Trophy and among those making their debut for the team is iconic half-back Benji Marshall, who previously played for the NRL All Stars team from 2010 to 2013.
“It was just the excitement which came across the phoneline from him and he also gets an opportunity to play with his brother Jeremy, which he’s never done,” Kidwell said.
“I thought I’d give Benji a good crack at this and he’s represented the All Stars before, but now he gets to represent his people.”
Kidwell’s opposite number Laurie Daley is wary of the danger posed by Marshall, capped 28 times for New Zealand and part of their 2008 World Cup triumph, too.
“I think playing for his people will be enough to bring out the best in Benji,” Daley said. “One thing I know is he’s very proud of himself, his family and his people, and I’m sure he’ll be ready to go on the night.”
— NRL (@NRL) February 17, 2021
Fogarty’s pride at All Stars call-up
The Indigenous side have been a part of the pre-season All Star game since it was inaugurated in 2010, first playing NRL then World All Stars sides up until 2019 when the Maoris took over as their annual opponents.
The team represent Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, and the likes of Latrell Mithcell, Jack Wighton and the Fifita cousins, Andrew and David, are just some of the big names with indigenous heritage playing for the side this year.
One of the newcomers to the team is Jamal Fogarty, who enjoyed a breakout year for the Gold Coast Titans in 2020 after making his debut in Round 9, having been signed from Queensland Cup team Burleigh Bears.
Fogarty, who had been combining a job as a youth worker with playing for the Bears, admitted he had almost given up hope of playing in the NRL, but is beaming with pride that a whirlwind 12 months has culminated in him getting the opportunity to represent the Indigenous All Stars.
All Stars, All Smiles 😃 pic.twitter.com/adOW1aDyR3
— NRL (@NRL) February 17, 2021
“It hasn’t sunk in yet and I don’t think it will until Saturday when we’re in the sheds and everyone is doing their preparations and the nerves will probably kick in with our war cry and their haka,” Fogarty, a member of the Mununjali clan from Beaudesert, Queensland, told NRL.com.
“After watching all of the All Star games over the last 10 years, whether that’s on the couch at home or in the stadium, to be able to stand out there with the quality players in our squad, that’s definitely up there.
“My NRL career is only just starting at the ripe age of 27 and I’ve taken the long road, but it’s been an awesome ride the past 12 months.”
Indigenous All Stars: Latrell Mitchell; Blake Ferguson, Jack Wighton, Jesse Ramien, Alex Johnston; Cody Walker, Jamal Fogarty; Andrew Fifita, Reuben Cotter, Josh Kerr, David Fifita, Tyrell Fuimaono, Tyrone Peachey.
Interchange: Corey Thompson, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Cade Cust, Chris Smith.
Maori All Stars: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad; Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Joseph Manu, Dylan Walker, Patrick Herbert; Jarome Luai, Benji Marshall; Russell Packer, Jeremy Marshall-King, James Fisher-Harris, Briton Nikora, Jordan Riki, Joseph Tapine.
Interchange: Issac Luke, Emry Pere, Zane Musgrove, Jackson Topine.
Saturday’s match action kicks off with the Indigenous and Maori stars going up against each other, with the former being the reigning champions following last year’s 10-4 victory.
Injuries, retirements and players being unable to travel due to border restrictions mean both teams are very different to the sides which took to the field last year. However, there are still 20 players from the NRLW who will be competing.
One other player set to take to the field is former Warrington Wolves Women’s captain Roxy Murdoch, who is back in the Southern Hemisphere following husband Ben Murdoch-Masila’s decision to sign for New Zealand Warriors after five years in Super League with Warrington and Salford Red Devils.
Murdoch has declared her intention to play for her adopted homeland of England at this year’s Rugby League World Cup, but the New Zealand-born back row will be pulling on the Maori shirt as she bids to earn a deal with the Warriors’ NRLW side.
Loved the training sesh on the weekend with the NZ Maoris Wider Squad. Been in the fridge for 5 years so that heat definitely hits different 😅🙈 Sunblock applied x 8 pic.twitter.com/aYcHmfNVga
— Roxy Murdoch (@MuraRoxy) January 11, 2021
“I’ve had a couple of chats with the Warriors about the NRLW and it would be cool to do that,” Murdoch told NRL.com.
“I’m still in regular contact with the England coaches and have been sticking to my training loads and programs. I definitely have to make some teams over here to play for England so that’s the plan.”
Indigenous All Stars: Jaime Chapman; Taleena Simon, Monique Donovan, Jasmine Peters, Leticia Quinlan; Talia Fuimaono, Akira Kelly; Kaitlyn Phillips, Quincy Dodd, Caitlan Johnston, Shaniah Power, Shaylee Bent, Tallisha Harden.
Interchange: Lailee Phillips, Keilee Joseph, Olivia Kernick, Abelee Stanley.
Maori All Stars: Corban McGregor; Botille Vette-Walsh, Amy Turner, Hayley Tipene, Jodeci Nicholson; Zahara Temara, Crystal Tamarua; Nita Maynard, Kennedy Cherrington, Mata Hill-Moana, Zali Eve Fay, Rona Peters, Lavinia Gould.
Interchange: Shannon Mato, Raecene McGregor, Roxy Murdoch, Page McGregor.