Forget about the money – the All Stars is all about inspiring the next generation of Indigenous Australians, Justin Hodges says.
Retired great Hodges said the NRL would be missing the point entirely if it scrapped the All Stars concept based on revenue.
The future of the annual showcase – now in its sixth year – will again be reassessed after Saturday night’s Suncorp Stadium showdown.
It is believed the 40,000-plus attendance expected this weekend may not save the event after it suffered reported losses of $500,000 when it was held on the Gold Coast last year.
But Hodges said it was narrow minded to simply measure the event’s success in dollars and cents.
He said it was the school visits and events players took part in throughout Indigenous communities in the week leading up to the game that made the difference.
Hodges said initiatives like the All Stars week’s Youth Summit helped mould the next generation of Indigenous leaders.
“It’s not about the money,” Hodges told AAP.
“For the indigenous boys it’s not about filling stadiums, it’s not about winning games.
“It’s about the week the players have with the kids, the kids who don’t get to see their heroes, who can’t afford a ticket or get a chance to see their heroes train or interact with them.”
More than 50 Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori students from Australia and New Zealand gather to be taught life skills with NRL stars at the Youth Summit camp, now in its fifth year.
“That’s what they have got to understand,” Hodges said.
“The kids walk in so shy but as soon we start interacting with them their faces light up.
“It’s making sure the kids are looked after. They learn off us – that’s our future.”
Player welfare concerns in a packed pre-season and a perceived lack of interest have further muddied the All Stars’ future.
Five Indigenous players made themselves unavailable while nine of the World All Stars’ initial 20-strong squad have pulled out.
But England forward James Graham said the NRL needed an All Stars weekend more than any other major sport.
“The NRL needs an All Star weekend more than even the American codes – I would say more than the NFL or NHL or those American codes need their All Stars weekend,” the World All Stars forward told AAP.
“This is a little bit more than that. You see what it means to the Indigenous players and communities.
“I think that it’s important that it is something that is recognised and that these teams play a part in it.
“I really hope it is here for many years to come.”