In its third year, the All Stars encounter between the Indigenous and Maori took place this morning in a wet and humid Townsville as Laurie Daley's side took on the team coached by David Kidwell.
Honours had been shared between the two sides with the Indigenous side winning 34-14 in 2019 and the Maoris picking up a 30-16 victory last time out in the 2020 pre-season.
With the start of the NRL season just under three weeks away it was the perfect opportunity for some of the games superstars to blow off the cobwebs and put on a show in four quarters of twenty minutes.
The Maoris had the best of the early exchanges but both sides made basic errors. A couple of early chances were bombed by poor last passes and the two sides had squared up to one another to show that this was far from a gentlemanly exhibition game.
Somehow the Indigenous All Stars defence managed to repel the Maoris attack and despite almost seventy-five percent of the possession and position and with the quarter time hooter having already sounded, Jamal Fogarty kicked a penalty from in front of the uprights for an unlikely 2-0 lead.
The game opened up a little in the second quarter as the defences tired and with five minutes of the half remaining a shoulder charge from Zane Musgrove was penalised with the sentence of a ten-minute rest in the sin-bin. But still neither side could cross the whitewash with the ball in hand, the Indigenous All Stars taking a 2-0 lead into the interval after a rough, tough and uncompromising first half.
The first try of the game came on forty-nine when Jordan Riki hit a Benji Marshall pass at speed and dragged a couple of Indigenous tacklers over the line to ground by the left upright. Patrick Herbert added the extras for a 6-2 lead.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was put on report on fifty-three after making surely the lowest high-tackle ever seen on a falling Indigenous player, but within a minute the Maori winger was on the scoreboard as he was on hand to benefit from a Joseph Manu interception and seventy metre dash downfield and take the advantage of his supporting play. Herbert slid his kick across the front of the posts, the Maoris 10-2 ahead.
Tyrone Peachey added to the Indigenous troubles when he was sin-binned for interference with the restart just before the end of the third quarter, the Maoris maintaining their eight-point advantage.
The Indigenous All-Stars picked up their first try when Latrell Mitchell fed Alex Johnston to force the ball to the ground. Mitchell hit the target from wide and with fifteen minutes left the margin between the sides was down to two points.
A terrific break from Jesse Ramien looked like he might snatch the win for the Indigenous All Stars but he put the ball to ground, under little pressure, as he headed for the line. The Maoris were hanging on as they tried to wind the clock down but with just under two minutes left a penalty was awarded against the Maoris, in front of the sticks, for tackling the player without the ball. Mitchell kicked the goal to level the scores at 10-10 with forty-five seconds left remaining.
The clock ran down to deny both sides the win and with no golden point on offer the game was a draw, probably the fairest of results from a barnstorming competition.
Indigenous All Stars: Mitchell (2G), Ferguson, Wighton, Ramien, Johnston (T), Walker, Fogarty (G), Fifita A, Cotter, Kerr, Fifita D, Fuimaono, Peachey (SB on 59). Subs: Thompson, Taunoa-Brown, Cust, Smith, Saddler, Curran, Kelly.
Maori All Stars: Nicoll-Klokstad, Watene-Zelezniak (T), Manu, Walker, Herbert (G), Luai, Marshall, Packer, Marshall-King, Fisher-Harris, Nikora, Riki (T), Tapine. Subs: Luke, Pere, Musgrove (SB on 35), Topine, Marsters, Greig, Asi.
Half Time: 2-0.
Full Time: 10-10.
Referee: Adam Gee.