The NRL has scrapped next year’s All Stars pre-season match but has launched a `Festival of Indigenous Rugby League’ program in its place.
The popular concept, introduced to wide acclaim in 2010, will be rested in 2014 due to player welfare concerns in backing up from the World Cup in England.
In its place is a week-long festival in Newcastle which will feature a trial match between the Knights and a non-elite Indigenous team.
This year’s World Cup, finishing in October, means many leading players would have been unavailable for an early start to next season, challenging the event’s credibility.
Indigenous All Stars captain and Test five-eighth Johnathan Thurston said there was strong support for the festival ahead of a return to the elite All Stars match in 2015.
“The players are 100 per cent behind the All Stars,” said Thurston.
“We love everything involved in the week, but we only want to see the match held if it can be done properly and played in the spirit and standard that it has been over the past four years.”
All Stars pioneer Preston Campbell said he understood the decision to protect the welfare of the players and the credibility of the event by changing the structure after each World Cup year.
“We can’t afford to devalue the All Stars concept and not have the best against the best,” said Campbell.
“But at the same time everyone also recognises that All Stars is more than just a game, so I am more than confident the alternate event proposed for 2014 engages the community and is a fitting celebration of Indigenous Rugby League.”