Indigenous and Maori men’s and women’s players have welcomed the decision to stage the annual All Stars clash in Sydney for the first time, with the February 12 clash to double as a home coming for the game.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo announced on Tuesday that Sydney would create history by hosting the NRL Harvey Norman All Stars clash at CommBank Stadium for the first time since the concept’s inception in 2010.
The match will open the biggest season in the game’s history, with two NRLW competitions, the Telstra Premiership, State of Origin and the 2020 World Cup in England.
It will also be the first match played in Sydney since the Telstra Premiership relocated to Queensland in July due to COVID-19 and signals a show of confidence in a fixture that Indigenous players once had to fight to retain.
“This is a fitting time to be playing here," Abdo said. "This is a phase of renewal for the economy and giving people confidence to come to live events again, and to celebrate everything that people in the NSW community have achieved over the last couple of months, which have been really tough.
“This game means so much to the players and to our community, and given the fact we haven’t played football in NSW for so long I think people are hungry to see this clash."
V'landys said: “You can’t imagine our game without the influence of Indigenous and Maori cultures and the leadership role our players have in the community. We’re delighted that Sydney will have the opportunity to host these games for the first time".
Western Sydney is considered a melting pot of cultures and boasts the largest Indigenous and Maori populations in Australia.
“As soon as I heard it was at CommBank Stadium it gave me chills because us western Sydney mob, we are so passionate," Indigenous All Stars women's centre Shaylee Bent said.
"I think because a lot of us don’t have much, to have it here where a lot of our people can come is big. Redfern and Mount Druitt are some of the biggest populations of Indigenous people so it is going to be crazy.
"It is going to be the best it has ever been, I reckon, and there are a lot of Maori people in western Sydney too so to have it at Parramatta is going to be so mad you don’t understand."
South Sydney playmaker Cody Walker said he was excited by the opportunity to represent the Indigenous All Stars in Sydney.
“I think it makes sense to bring it to Sydney,” Walker said. “I have enjoyed every All Stars I have been a part of, and I am looking forward to the week.”
Penrith prop James Fisher-Harris said he was looking forward to pulling on a Maori jersey in front of his family and fans from western Sydney.
“There is a strong Maori population out west so I am sure they will come to watch the game and it is good for my family also,” Fisher-Harris said. “I am sure this game is going to get bigger and bigger.”
Maori Ferns fullback Botille Vette-Welsh added: “We have had to travel all over Australia so it is exciting to have it in our home city. Families can come easy now and to get a lot of Maoris at the game would be awesome".
Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council chair Katrina Fanning said all 10 previous All Stars contests had educated, improved awareness and helped to build bridges between communities.
“It has had an incredibly important impact in regional communities but it has also shown its power in our cities including Brisbane and Melbourne. Now Sydney has the chance to experience the life-changing abilities of the All Stars concept,” Fanning said.
Abdo said it was important for the game that Touch Football would also be part of the All Stars concept, with Indigenous and Maori mixed teams to play in the opening match.
The return of Touch Football to the event coincides with the launch of Touch Football Australia’s first Reconciliation Action Plan and highlights the history and importance of Indigenous Australians associated in the sport and forecasts a path to closing the gap through education, health and recognition.
Tickets will be on sale from Wednesday, December 1 to Parramatta Eels members at 9am (AEDT), all other NRL club Members at 9.30am (AEDT), NRL account holders at 10am (AEDT) and the general public from 2pm (AEDT).
Go to tickets.nrl.com/allstars