If given the choice, Cameron Smith says he would opt for the All Stars to take precedence over the NRL Auckland Nines in a reshuffled pre-season.
World All Stars captain Smith admitted “something has got to give” in a NRL pre-season that had now become so hectic stars now needed to pick and choose which events they could play.
Smith threw his support behind the besieged All Stars game but admitted the number of big-name withdrawals had hurt the concept, revealing he was personally disappointed with Johnathan Thurston’s unavailability.
The All Stars game’s future is again under a cloud due to player welfare concerns and waning public interest in the wake of the Nines’ popularity and an expanded World Club Series in the United Kingdom.
The sixth instalment will be held at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
But asked if the All Stars should take precedence over the Nines, Smith said on Tuesday: “I am a traditionalist. I would opt to play this (All Stars).
“I was given the choice of playing the Nines or this by (Melbourne coach) Craig Bellamy and I chose this.
“It’s where I would rather play.”
However, Smith did lament the lack of marquee players at this weekend’s All Stars clash – especially good mate Thurston.
North Queensland co-captain Thurston reluctantly withdrew from the Indigenous side in order to prepare for the Cowboys’ February 21 World Club Challenge final clash with English champions Leeds.
“I will be honest I would have loved for him to be available, he is a massive drawcard for this match,” Smith said.
“But I understand his commitment to the Cowboys.
“They did something pretty special winning their first premiership and it’s always nice to go over to England and take out the World Club Challenge as well.
“I have been lucky enough to do that myself.
“That was his choice to make.”
Five players have made themselves unavailable for the Indigenous side while a whopping nine of the original 20 from the World All Stars squad have pulled out.
And Smith said fans would have to get used to not seeing the stars shine if the busy pre-season format remained.
“Maybe something has to give,” he said.
“At the moment that’s our calendar and all the players are doing their best to satisfy the schedule, but unfortunately you can’t have all the stars playing in every match.
“We’ve lost a few through the Nines, one of the biggest names has opted to prepare for the World Club Challenge in Johnathan Thurston – unfortunately with the demands of the game and training we just can’t get up for everything.”
Meanwhile, Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis backed Wayne Bennett’s call that the NRL must guarantee the concept’s future.
The NRL’s two-game contract with the Queensland government to host the game expires this year.
“It’s not only giving back to Indigenous people but fans in general,” Inglis said.
“I just can’t speak highly enough of the week and the game.”