DOES the All Star game, in its current form, have a shelf-life?
Billy Slater’s withdrawal, apparently likely to be followed by that of Paul Gallen, has echoes of the national team a decade or so ago when off-season surgery started to take precedence over representing.
That’s not to say either of those players is withdrawing for anything but genuine reasons – but they are two of the five or six best players in the world and their absence will affect the lustre of the February 9 showpiece at Suncorp Stadium.
To his credit, NRL promotions man Paul Kind did his damnedest to get the long-mooted Pacific All Stars on the field last year against England.
Unfortunately, a verbal agreement that NRL players would have a light post-season kept Steve McNamara’s team at home and potentially one of the most powerful marketing tools the game has at its disposal in cotton wool.
One of the big reservations fans have about the Pacific Allstars concept is that if the side plays international opponents, players will be able to have a bet each way – stick with the big countries but then say they are honouring their heritage without actually having to play for Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji and the rest.
It’s a valid concern.
So maybe the Pacific All Stars don’t belong on the international stage. Maybe they should play the NRL All Stars – including Aboriginal players – every second year.
Polynesian and Melanesian players have as big an impact on the League as those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island heritage and deserve to be honoured.
And by keeping the concept fresh, players would not feel as inclined to bow to club pressure and sit out and All Star game after they’ve already played on one or two.
This team could capture the imagination of the Pacific islands to an extent only matched by the All Blacks and be a powerful recruitment tool for our game.
Here’s how a couple of starting sides might look (it’s an interesting exercise putting solely New Zealand-eligible maoris on one side or the other. I’ve put them on the Pacific side here but that team would be quite strong without them):
NRL: Billy Slater; Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Greg Inglis, Ben Barba; Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk; Greg Bird, Simon Mannering, Anthony Watmough, Paul Gallen, Cameron Smith, Matt Scott.
PACIFIC: Jarryd Hayne; Akuila Uate, Michael Jennings, Justin O’Neill, Manu Vatuvei; Feleti Mateo, Benji Marshall; Sonny Bill Williams, Neville Costigan, Ben Te’o, James Tamou, Issac Luke, FuiFui MoiMoi.
Give us your thoughts.
I HAD the pleasure last week of visiting US forward Curtis Cunz at work – on the 40th floor of an office building on Park Avenue, Manhattan with magnificent mid-town views.
Despite the divisions in the game in the US, the Tomahawks are looking forward to respectable World Cup debut. Junior Paulo and Clint Newton look like being on board.
One thing confuses me, though. The AMNRL are supposed to be owned by a corporation called Grand Prix Sports, as of last May. Grand Prix Sports were supposed to underwrite the US v Melbourne game last October.
It didn’t happen, due to lack of funds. The rival USARL –meanwhile – is running a Nines tournament in Philadelphia – the AMNRL’S backyard – in May, with Nathan Blacklook to play for a side called NSW Armidales on May 18.
Meanwhile, Grand Prix Sports is promoting a rugby union sevens tournament here in LA on July 12-14, with US$1 million prizemoney on offer.
COMMENTS LAST week were a bit of a slow burn but we ended up with quite a respectable number.