The shocking treatment of Sydney AFL captain Adam Goodes should only make the All Stars match all the more relevant in the NRL’s eyes, Gold Coast hitman Greg Bird says.
The future of the All Stars game is again under the microscope due to a perceived lack of interest and player welfare concerns.
But Indigenous selection Bird hoped the Goodes controversy last year had put the All Stars showdown’s importance in perspective ahead of Saturday night’s Suncorp Stadium clash.
Proud Aborigine Goodes was forced to stand down in round 18 last year after being incessantly booed by crowds.
The former Australian of the Year and two-time Brownlow Medallist – who singled out a teenage Collingwood fan for calling him an ape in 2013 – finally retired at the end of last season.
Yet the Swans opted to delay Goodes’ final farewell to club fans until their round three game against Greater Western Sydney in March in order to avoid further jeering from Collingwood supporters in their home season opener – the usual match retiring players use to wave goodbye.
Bird believed the NRL All Stars clash had gained more significance due to the appalling treatment of Goodes.
“It’s an education thing, for everybody involved, on how people should be treated – equality,” Bird told reporters.
“The Goodes saga in Sydney last year was a debacle.
“This concept, seeing the best Indigenous kids and men represent their people proudly, is something all Australians should recognise and be proud of, wherever they come from.”
Bird said the NRL should look at shortening the regular season before threatening to axe the All Stars clash from an increasingly hectic pre-season.
“I think the season should be shorter. Look at other codes, the NFL for example, they have 16 rounds,” he said.
“Every match would have a massive amount of importance.
“There would be no matches where teams are massively understrength for the Origin period.
“I think that’s ideal but you have to look at TV rights and everything like that.”
Bird admitted he was “dumbfounded” that the All Stars clash’s future was being questioned for another year barely 12 months after then NRL boss Dave Smith all but guaranteed its future.
“I had the understanding it was embedded in the game,” he said.