Founder Campbell's vision to expand into New Zealand

All Stars founder Preston Campbell believes the concept should be taken to New Zealand after the success of Friday night’s historic match between the Indigenous and Maori teams at AAMI Stadium.

The clash, won 34-14 by the Cody Walker-led Indigenous team, was the first time the two cultures have met since the introduction of All Stars in 2010 and the inclusion of the Maori took the concept to a new level.

NRL officials were happy with the crowd of 18,802 for the opening fixture of the 2019 season in Melbourne but it has always been intended that the All Stars concept would be taken to different communities around Australia and Townsville has been mentioned as a likely venue next year.

However, Campbell said New Zealand should also come into consideration after witnessing first-hand the passion of the Maori players and supporters for their team.

"Melbourne has been pretty successful tonight but if the Maori are involved again I would love to see it go to New Zealand as well," Campbell said.

"I think you would pack stadiums out over there.

"The night itself has been great but the whole week has been enjoyable. If you ask the Maori boys they would want to do it every year.

"They have been very appreciative, they have been saying thank you but I think we need to thank them for showing us what culture should be all about. The way they celebrate it is quite powerful and I am so happy for them."

Maori All Stars coach Stacey Jones said there would be strong support for the concept in New Zealand.

"I reckon it would be massive, it would be huge." Jones said. "I know that people would get right behind it when you have got two talented football teams.

"People want to see class players play and I am sure they would get right behind it. The week has been more than just a game of footy.

"The brotherhood out on the field after the game was very strong with both teams. We embraced the concept and know how much it means to them, and they know how much it means to us as well."  

When Campbell first took his idea for the concept to Gold Coast Titans CEO Michael Searle after the 2008 World Cup, he intended for the Indigenous team to play the Maori, but to gain widespread support the NRL All Stars were established.

Wayne Bennett's commitment to coach the NRL All Stars against the Indigenous team and the backing of Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith gave the concept instant credibility but support has waned in recent years after the introduction of the Auckland Nines.

Bringing in the Maori team, whose clash with the Indigenous Dream Time team as a curtain-raiser to the 2008 World Cup opener was the only time the two sides had previously played against each other at full strength, has reinvigorated the concept and it appears to be here to stay.

"I know a few key players pulled out at the last minute but the reason it will always work is because of the passion of the players," Campbell said.

"They aren't going to go out there and go soft."

Australian centre Latrell Mitchell gave the All Stars clash new-found credibility when he chose to play for the Indigenous team over a trip to France and England with the Sydney Roosters for the World Club Challenge.

Mitchell was given the honour of leading the war cry while Campbell played didgeridoo.

Fans enjoyed the pre-game build-up to the All Stars clash in Melbourne.
Fans enjoyed the pre-game build-up to the All Stars clash in Melbourne. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Maori captain Adam Blair led his team in a powerful Haka and they had expected to be too strong in the forwards for an Indigenous team which was forced to blood untried St George Illawarra forward Josh Kerr due to the unavailability of Ryan James, Wade Graham and Jack Bird.

In contrast, the Maori team had New Zealand Test forwards Tohu Harris, Corey Harawira-Naera, Joseph Tapine and Kenny Bromwich on the interchange bench behind a starting pack featuring the likes of Blair, Jesse Bromwich, James Tamou, Kevin Proctor and James Fisher-Harris.

However, the Laurie Daley-coached Indigenous team played the only way they could with the forwards available and relied on an expansive game play to overcome their bigger and more experienced opponents.

The tactics proved successful with Melbourne and NSW Origin winger Josh Addo-Carr crossing in the 10th and 13th minutes to grab an early lead and the Indigenous All Stars then turning their focus to the right edge.

Bevan French, who counts Preston Campbell and Nathan Blacklock among his relatives, scored a sensational try in the 32nd minute after finishing a length of the field movement started when Andrew Fifita created a hole for Jesse Ramien, who kicked ahead for the Parramatta speedster.

In between, Dane Gagai – a veteran of three previous All Stars matches with the Indigenous team – grabbed his second try for the Maori, whom he had chosen to play for in recognition of his mother's heritage.

Eels star recruit Blake Ferguson gave the Indigenous team a 20-10 lead at halftime when he crossed on the right wing and attempted a back-flip like Blacklock and Anthony Mundine were renowned for during their days with the Dragons, but he didn’t quite nail it and landed awkwardly.

Everything else went right for the Indigenous team and boom Broncos forward David Fifita, who turns 19 next week, put Daley's team ahead 24-10 when he crossed in the 42nd minute. Tries to Walker and Kerr sealed the 34-14 triumph.