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Stars Missing from All Stars

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The NRL World All Stars Game takes place this weekend, but many people are asking where all the stars are?

The ‘All Star’ concept was introduced back in 2010 as a way to pit some of the best rugby league players from around the world against those indigenous players who were representing their land and their heritage. It initially was a raging success with the iconic image of Wendell Sailor scoring a try in the corner and using the corner post as a didgeridoo, a scene which is still being used as a promotional tool to this day.

Original winning side of the All Stars clash in 2010, the Indigenous team. (courtesy of whosplayingwho.net
Original winning side of the All Stars clash in 2010, the Indigenous team. source

With players like Sam Burgess making their debuts in the league in the game, it had meaning and felt like each player was determined to show that their side was the best despite it essentially being a glorified trial game before the season proper.

Sam Burgess in his debut in the NRL for the then known as NRL All Stars (courtesy of nrl.com)
Sam Burgess in his debut in the NRL for the then known as NRL All Stars. source

This idea that it is in fact a glorified trial has slowly dawned on both the players and the fans as the novelty has begin to wane in recent years, so much that the game was axed off the calendar in 2014 in favour of the inaugural Auckland Nines competition.

The officials at NRL Headquarters have found room for the game this season, but there has been a mass exodus from when the initial squads were released in December. In the Indigenous team, five players have pulled out including their captain, Johnathan Thurston; and in the World All Stars there are nine changes in a squad of 20, meaning that almost half of the team has changed in two months. This begs the question: what’s the point of fans getting to vote for their favourite players when there’s a good possibility they won’t play?

So, when the two teams run out without their stars and with the Auckland Nines going from strength to strength, could this year be the final nail in the coffin for the All Star concept? It would seem it will have to recapture the spectacle of the opening year to survive.