PREVIEW: 2021 Men's NRL All Stars - Indigenous v Maori

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Indigenous All Stars v Maori Kiwis Saturday 8:10pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium

A meeting of cultures to kick off 2021

After one of the most extraordinary years in rugby league history, players, fans and administrators alike will be hoping the annual All Stars match brings with it a return to normalcy.

With last year's clash between the Indigenous and Maori cultures being one of the final fixtures played before full crowds and without social distancing measures in place, the tenth instalment of the concept devised by Preston Campbell will once again break new ground.

Set to be held in Townsville for the first time, the Indigenous team will be aiming to bounce back on the land of the Wulgurukaba people after a shock loss to the Maori 12 months ago.

Retaining 13 members of the team that went down 30-16 on the Gold Coast, Jamal Fogarty, Reuben Cotter, Cade Cust, Brian Kelly and Corey Thompson will all make their first appearances after being included in coach Laurie Daley's 20-man squad. 

Blake Ferguson, Andrew Fifita, Tyrone Peachey and Jack Wighton have been named for the sixth time, joining Indigenous icon Johnathan Thurston with the joint second most appearances. St Helens forward Joel Thompson holds the distinction as the most-capped player for the Indigenous All Stars with seven appearances.

Manly lower-grader Zac Saddler will achieve a unique piece of history on Saturday evening by becoming the first player to appear in multiple matches for the Indigenous All Stars before debuting in the NRL after earning a call up in place of injured forward Wade Graham.

Coming into the contest with bragging rights after upsetting the heavily favoured hosts last year, the Maori will field a vastly different team with 11 debutants and six players ruled out due to the latest coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne. 

Retaining just six players from last year's squad, coach David Kidwell has named ten Kiwi internationals, including prop Russell Packer who previously played for the Maori in an international fixture against England in 2010.

Among the six late call-ups named on Sunday morning, reigning Canterbury Clubperson of the Year Jackson Topine will join an exclusive group of men to appear in an All Stars match without NRL experience.

Last meeting: All Stars 2020 - Indigenous All Stars 16 Maori Kiwis 30

Who to watch: Set to make his representative debut on home soil, Reuben Cotter will be looking to bolster his claims for the North Queensland number nine jersey with a starring performance. Appearing in 15 matches in the top grade over the past two seasons, the 22-year-old of Torres Strait Islander heritage looks set for a breakout year as he vies to lock down a regular place in the Cowboys top 17. Set to share game time with makeshift dummy half Cade Cust, expect Cotter to be heavily involved in defence and cause havoc around the ruck with his running game.

As he approaches his 19th season in the NRL, superstar playmaker Benji Marshall will achieve two significant milestones on Saturday evening. Featuring in 31 tests for the Kiwis throughout his career, the South Sydney recruit will make his debut for the Maori on the same night he plays alongside his younger brother, Jeremy Marshall-King, for the first time. Recognised as one of the modern greats of the game, the soon-to-be 36-year-old will be determined to show he can still match it with youngsters who grew up in awe of his talents.

The favourite: Coming into the match with a more settled line-up, the Indigenous All Stars are expected to prove too strong for their Trans-Tasman rivals.

My tip: Eager to make amends after coming up short 12 moths earlier, the Indigenous All Stars should capitalise upon the Maori's disrupted preparation. Indigenous by 10.

1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Blake Ferguson 3. Jack Wighton 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Alex Johnston 6. Cody Walker 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Reuben Cotter 10. Josh Kerr 11. David Fifita 12. Tyrell Fuimaono 13. Tyrone Peachey 14. Corey Thompson 15. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 16. Cade Cust 17. Chris Smith 18. Zac Saddler 19. Josh Curran 20. Brian Kelly

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Joey Manu​ 4. Dylan Walker 5. Patrick Herbert 6. Jarome Luai 7. Benji Marshall 8. Russell Packer 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Briton Nikora 12. Jordan Riki 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Issac Luke 15. Emry Pere 16. Zane Musgrove 17. Jackson Topine 18. Esan Marsters 19. Wiremu Greig 20. Daejarn Asi

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