Indigenous v Maori All Stars needs more prominence but World Cup not way to go

The All Stars game between the Indigenous and Maori sides needs greater prominence on the rugby league calendar but adding them to the World Cup is not the way to go.

League legend Greg Inglis floated his support during the week for an Indigenous side to be part of the 2025 tournament in France which is a noble idea but it would not be the right move.

Rugby league’s representative eligibility rules are a rubbery beast and the World Cup has included teams like the New Zealand Maori in the past, they were in the 2000 event.

There will be 16 nations in the men’s competition, eight in the women’s and wheelchair tournaments at the the end of this year when the World Cup is held in England 12 months later than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the sport is ever going to expand beyond its limited global reach, the World Cup has to be for nations only.

Fellow Indigenous icon Johnathan Thurston said as much when also asked by the Sydney Morning Herald about Inglis’ idea by stating that he thinks one of the key parts of Australia’s complex reconciliation process is that the nation embraces everyone under the one umbrella.

That said, the All Stars game seems to be getting short shrift when it comes to the rugby league calendar and clubs releasing their players for the match.

There is no perfect time for the match to be played.

If it is on after the trials, the clubs would say it’s too close to the start of the season.

If it had its own weekend midway through the year like the NBA, then teams would also be reluctant to let players decamp mid-season due to the risk of injury.

And if it were switched to the end of the year then it would further encroach on the number of representative fixtures which was growing rapidly before the pandemic paused all internationals the past couple of years.

Like the World Club Challenge, which has been canned again this year due to travel restrictions, there is no date which ticks all the boxes for the governing bodies, players, broadcasters and worst of all, the club coaches and officials looking for the first excuse to keep their playing talent to themselves.

Irrespective of when the match is played, it should be used as a way to grow the game beyond its traditional heartlands.

Assuming international travel returns to relative normal, the All Stars game would be a great way to showcase rugby league to markets like Asia, the Middle East or the United States.

Expats alone from rugby league nations in those regions could help get decent crowds in stadiums at places like Dubai, Hong Kong or any number of American cities.

Rugby league took a step in the right direction pre-pandemic when England took on New Zealand in a Test at Denver in June, 2018.

A crowd of nearly 20,000 were in attendance at Mile High Stadium – it may have barely made a blip on the American sports radar but any overseas growth is worth chasing when your sport is only played at a decent level in a handful of countries.

Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley agreed with Thurston that he would prefer to see just the Kangaroos in action on the World Cup stage but was in favour of his side spreading its wings overseas.

“I personally believe you only need one Australian team, not two, at a World Cup, but I definitely think there’s an opportunity for this team to play a lot more games, including against the Pacific nations,” Daley said at Friday’s media conference leading into Saturday night’s clash at Parramatta’s CommBank Stadium.

“You could even have Indigenous tours over to England and New Zealand.

“It would be great to play more games, and we’d compete, don’t worry about that – there would be no worries there.”

If a match or a series was played in the northern hemisphere, it could even be brought forward a couple of weeks in the calendar to appease nervous clubs because it would be held in the winter months.

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