Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith has lauded the new NRL All Stars selection rules, which will effectively allow him to play fantasy football alongside England’s Sam Burgess and New Zealand’s Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at February’s pre-season extravaganza.
Teams for both the Indigenous and the rebadged World All Stars sides were unveiled on Tuesday in Brisbane, with the returning Burgess and backline sensation Tuivasa-Sheck the headline attractions.
They will add punch and pizazz respectively to a World outfit captained by Smith and containing players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Wales, Samoa and Papua New Guinea.
But the February 13 clash at Suncorp Stadium is really all about the Indigenous All Stars, coached by Laurie Daley and featuring some of the game’s most exciting players – including NRL premiership captain Johnathan Thurston, Origin stars Greg Inglis and Blake Ferguson, and in-demand free agent James Roberts.
Smith said he was looking forward to lining up next to Burgess, who spent 2015 in rugby union and is poised to have his new contract with South Sydney ratified.
“The game has missed him over the last 12 months,” he said.
“When you get to play alongside a quality player such as Sam, it’s always a pleasure. He’s a world-class player in our sport.
“He’s not the only guy. There’s a fair few people in that team I haven’t experienced playing alongside and it would be nice to get that opportunity.
“Tuivasa-Sheck, he’s an excitement machine. It would be nice to watch his special skills in the same jersey, not the opposite jersey.”
Indigenous veteran Sam Thaiday also endorsed the tweak to the popular pre-season match, conceived by Preston Campbell and launched in 2010.
“There’s always a few key messages behind this game and the more we can open that up to a world market, the better,” he said.
World All Stars coach Wayne Bennett said he would have picked Broncos halfback Ben Hunt if he didn’t have a carryover suspension for his lifting tackle on Kane Linnett in this year’s NRL grand final.
Illustrating the convoluted nature of the new selection criteria, which forces Bennett to pick one player from each NRL club but no more than two, he said he had to change six players to accommodate withdrawing Hunt from his first-choice team.
Bennett also didn’t consider any players coming off injuries or surgery, offering Roosters forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves as an example of one he would have picked if fit.
Not that there was any shortage of demand from players wanting to be involved.
“The players are ringing me up, I probably got seven or eight phone calls: ‘Put me in the All Stars, coach, will you please’, which is great,” Bennett said.
“They come here all happy and they want to be here, you’re living in air conditioning, training for one hour a day (or) you’re back at your club getting flogged somewhere because it’s still pre-season for the rest of them.
“Why wouldn’t you want to be here? They pay you as well. Think about it.”
Indigenous All Stars: Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Will Chambers, Blake Ferguson, Dane Gagai, Ben Barba, Johnathan Thurston (c), Ryan James, Nathan Peats, Sam Thaiday, Greg Bird, Joel Thompson, Chris Grevsmuhl. Bench: Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Tyrone Peachey, James Roberts, Tyrone Roberts, Ray Thompson, Jack Wighton. Coach: Laurie Daley
World All Stars: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Semi Radradra, Jarrod Croker, Josh Morris, Antonio Winterstein, Gareth Widdop, Trent Hodkinson, James Graham, Cameron Smith (c), Paul Gallen, Tyson Frizell, Simon Mannering, Sam Burgess. Bench: Tom Burgess, Kane Evans, Robbie Farah, Lachlan Maranta, Nene McDonald, Trent Merrin, Martin Taupau. Coach: Wayne Bennett