Almanac Rugby League – Australian Indigenous All Stars v New Zealand Maori All Stars: a promising start to the new season

Australian Indigenous All Stars v New Zealand Maori All Stars
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Friday 15th February 2019


The NRL hierarchy must have been pleased to see the commencement of the playing season last night after an off-season from hell. Somehow or another, a small minority of players manage to keep the code on the front pages for all the wrong reasons. Just think Ben Barba, Jack De Belin… But I digress.


You tend not to expect a lot when you watch the first few games of the new season – the skills are a bit rusty, the combinations aren’t quite there yet, and the players are blowing hard some time out from the final whistle. If those are the measuring sticks, then last night’s All Stars game was way ahead of the curve.


Admittedly, they did play the game in quarters rather than halves and, yes, there was unlimited interchange allowed. Those factors can also add to the potential for lack of flow and poor combination development. But, hey, it is only February, so let these guys ease into the season. It’s already a big enough game for them to have first up, so let’s cut them some slack.


Pre-match, the thinking was that the Australian Indigenous All Stars might have the edge in agility and speed while the NZ Maori All Stars boasted the experience with a team stacked with Test players as well as a hefty weight advantage. The respective coaches were legends Laurie Daley and Stacey Jones.


The game itself was preceded by appropriate traditional cultural celebrations and the respective national anthems.


The Maori combination hit the scoreboard early after quick hands put Dane Gagai over in the corner but the Indigenous mob hit back quickly, twice, via Josh Addo-Carr (who looks like he’s bulked up a bit over the break). The wingers had a night of it with Gagai scoring again later on while Blake Ferguson (Indigenous) got on the scoresheet and celebrated with a most awkward looking side flip which must have set hearts racing at his new club, the Eels. Talking about ‘beefed up’, no doubt the most significant development in physique belonged to Kalyn Ponga – a stripling kid last year, he now looks like one of the big boys.


As the match progressed, the Australian combination clicked better overall and the side went on to a comfortable seven tries to three, 34-14 win. But it was the form of several individuals and one or two combinations that caught the eye.


For the NZ Maori team, Esan Marsters was a handful all night, making big metres and combining well with Dane Gagai on the edge. Dean Whare has a great catch-and-pass play that gives his outside player time and space. Kalyn Ponga showed glimpses of his class although, to be fair, he did take a couple of poor options as well. Brandon Smith is a real goer, as was his bench replacement Danny Levi. Joseph Tapine also showed a lot of class.


For the Australians, Tyrone Roberts played probably his best game ever, guiding his side around the park with a good selection of long and short passes as well as a good kicking game. He was a fair choice as man-of-the-match. I would have given the award to young forward David Fifita, still a teenager but one mean package as a rampaging runner and solid defender. His speed to get to a through grubber and pounce for a try would have done a winger proud. Andrew Fifita had his moments with one offload in the first half of particular note but, hey, he’s not worthy to be named in the same sentence as Artie Beetson, something Gus Gould would have us believe.


Overall, it was a free-flowing, spirited game that kept the crowd of 18,802 entertained and gave the new season an attractive on-field start. Referees Grant Atkins and Gavin Badger had a good night, remaining almost invisible as the players strutted their stuff – well done, chaps!


In the earlier women’s clash, not on free to air television unfortunately, the NZ Maori Ferns defeated the Australian Indigenous All Star women’s team 8-4. Apologies for not being able to report it in any detail here.


Twenty-six days and counting until the NRL season proper kicks off on March 14 with the clash between Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos at AAMI Park – a mouth-watering prospect to get things underway.



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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

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