NRL All Stars a cause for celebration, not polarisation

The Harvey Norman NRL All Stars double-header returns to Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast this Saturday night with the women’s and men’s Indigenous All Stars taking on the Maori All Stars.

In what is supposed to be a celebration of Indigenous and Maori players, their culture and their contributions to the game of rugby league, the marquee exhibition match has been subject to heated debate on social media after the ARL Commission decided to scrap the singing of the Australian national anthem after several key Indigenous players expressed concerns that the words of the anthem do not represent them or their families and does not include and acknowledgement of First Nations people.

Advertisements

The national anthem debate has polarised rugby league fans, after a number of players refused to sing the anthem before last years All Stars clash, with the issue again highlighted before the State of Origin series when key players such as Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker deciding to stand silently when the anthem was played.

We live in a time when high-profile sports and sporting athletes will use their platform to speak openly with fans to express their values, talk about their political beliefs and try to make a difference in the world.

Some fans might think they should keep their opinions to themselves and stick to playing sport while others believe it’s an opportunity to generate discussion about the many challenges and issues we face as a community. Either way, sporting events like the NRL All Stars is what should bring us together, not create divisiveness.

Embed from Getty Images

For the sake of the game, let’s focus on what the concept is all about and the star-studded line-ups who will take the field this Saturday night in what is certain to be two entertaining games.

Watch as the players perform their traditional War Cry and Haka before the game. Marvel at the skills of Latrell Mitchell and Kalyn Ponga. Don’t blink when speedsters Josh Addo-Carr and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak are in full flight. Feast on the battle up-front as David Fifita takes on Jesse Bromwich.

And for the women, we have internationals Tallisha Harden and Shakiah Tungai who will lead the Indigenous while Krystal Rota and Raecene McGregor will line-up for the Maori.

There’s nothing wrong with the All Stars event being used to raise concerns with the national anthem and should be part of a national conversation, but let’s not allow differences of opinions on the subject spoil what will be two great games of rugby league.

In a show of Unity, the Maori All Stars will not sing their national anthem – which includes both Maori and English lyrics – before the game as well.

Embed from Getty Images

For the players, representing their culture and heritage means so much to them and as we’ve seen over the past decade, there are very few games on the rugby league calendar that’s played with such passion and enthusiasm as the All Stars clash.

The All Stars concept was created in 2010 with the Indigenous All Stars defeating then opponents the NRL All Stars 16-10 on the Gold Coast. The match was glittered with many of the game’s best players – including Preston Campbell and Johnathan Thurston for the Indigenous All Stars, while the NRL All Stars boasted the likes Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith.

In 2019, the concept was revamped to include the New Zealand Maori. Last year’s All Stars fixtures saw the men’s Indigenous side get up over the Maori 34-14 while the Maori women’s team got the win over the Indigenous 8-4 at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.