Given the honour of presenting the Preston Campbell Medal after last year's Harvey Norman All Stars game in Rotorua, Greg Inglis was so nervous he had to phone his mum for some reassurance.
For a man who played 263 NRL games and represented Queensland and Australia, you'd think handing out a medal would be a piece of cake, but Inglis knows the stature of the man he was replacing and wanted to do his little mate proud.
“When I was first asked to do it, I didn’t want to, it’s like I got nervous,” Inglis told NRL.com.
“It’s a big honour, it’s like somebody presenting a Dally M or Clive Churchill [Medal]. For players playing in this game, it’s the ultimate.
“It’s not only Preston’s name that’s always going to be attached to it, it’s his legacy as well.
“I believe no matter what goes on from year to year, players will always want to get that medal and have it hanging up at home.
"It’s something they can go back, look at and tell a story about, this is the guy that created the concept and this is how it all came about.”
Campbell not only captained the first Indigenous team in 2010 but was the driving force behind the All Stars concept, as a vehicle to promote Indigenous culture and educate the broader community about issues facing First Nations people.
Johnathan Thurston's Preston Campbell Medal performance
The former Titans fullback convinced officials to back the introduction of an Indigenous All Stars team after witnessing first-hand the reaction to the Aboriginal Dreamtime team which played before the 2008 World Cup opener.
Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia last year, Campbell has been hailed as a unifying voice for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and an inspiration for players, like Inglis, to make a difference off the field.
“He taught me a lot of things away from the footy field. If you’re happy off the field then your footy will just come, it all gels in together,” Inglis, Founder of the Goanna Academy said.
“He’s been there through my dark days, he’s just always been there in the background.
“For such a little person, he’s had such a huge impact on not only the game itself but for me and my family, it’s tremendous.
“He’s Preston… he’s always busy but he’s always got the time and is up for a chat. He never asks anything to do with footy he just asks how you are and how the family is. That’s who he is.”
Relive the 2010 match-winner with Soward and Campbell
With an honour roll that includes Johnathan Thurston twice, James Fisher-Harris, Joseph Tapine, Brandon Smith and Hynes, the medal struck in Campbell's honour continues to grow in stature.
Taking to the field in Rotorua last year with a heavy heart, Hynes produced a brilliant performance that did his family and his 'mob' proud.
“Mum was going through a tough time and I was considering withdrawing from the game to be with family but mum wanted me to play, so going out there and playing for my people was extra special," Hynes told NRL.com.
Hynes wins the Preston Campbell medal
“It’s already a special feeling going there and doing your mob proud but considering what was going on in my life at the time, it meant a lot more than what it would have already.
“To have the medal presented by Greg Inglis, who was a massive part of the early All Stars and has been a great ambassador and inspiration to young Indigenous kids throughout his career… to get it off him was pretty special.
“And after losing my first (All Stars) game, I wanted to go over to New Zealand to make sure we won it... and now I can’t wait for this year."
Tapine leads from the front for Maori
Māori co-captain Tapine stood tall in 2022 at CommBank Stadium with a try, 122 run metres and seven tackle breaks in his side's hard-fought 16-10 win.
In a year that culminated with the Meninga Medal as Canberra's best player and Dally M Prop of the Year honours, Tapine credis that special All Stars moment with kick-starting his season.
“I’ve met Preston and he is just such a great ambassador for everything really, well-being especially,” Tapine told NRL.com.
“To win that medal was huge for me, especially that year, it was like a catapult into that season where previous years I personally thought I was playing all right but didn't really crack it.
“After that game and being recognised with the medal, it kind of gave me a confidence boost going into the season and I actually had a really good year.”
Match: Indigenous v Maori
Round 1 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Preston Campbell Medal winners
- 2010 - Johnathan Thurston (Indigenous All Stars)
- 2011 - Josh Dugan (NRL All Stars)
- 2012 - Nathan Merritt (Indigenous All Stars)
- 2013 - Ben Barba (Indigenous All Stars)
- 2014 - Not held
- 2015 - George Rose (Indigenous All Stars)
- 2016 - James Graham (World All Stars)
- 2017 - Johnathan Thurston (Indigenous All Stars
- 2018 - Not held
- 2019 - Tyrone Roberts (Indigenous All Stars)
- 2020 - Brandon Smith (Māori All Stars)
- 2021 - James Fisher-Harris (Māori All Stars)
- 2022 - Joseph Tapine (Māori All Stars)
- 2023 - Nicho Hynes (Indigenous All Sars)
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