Daley wowed by strongest ever All Stars line-up
The stunning line-up chosen by fans to represent the Indigenous All Stars early next season has impressed coach Laurie Daley, who tipped it as the stronger ever Indigenous side chosen for the fixture.
Kangaroos and Origin stars including Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Blake Ferguson, Sam Thaiday, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Will Chambers, Dane Gagai and Jack Bird headline a team including some of the best upcoming talent and future rep stars in a side that is 'All-Star' in far more than just name.
"It's a great team - this is probably the strongest side we've had," Daley said at the team announcement at Rugby League Central on Wednesday morning.
"It's an international-looking backline then you've got some up and coming young forwards, a couple of older guys there and all those young talented guys like Latrell Mitchell on the interchange bench. They'll be looking for an opportunity and it's exciting for us," he added.
Like his Cronulla teammate Wade Graham did last year, Sharks and Blues youngster Jack Bird will be looking to find out more about his own Indigenous background in the week leading up to the match, which will be held in Newcastle – the first time the fixture has been taken out of Queensland.
"I think it's great. There's no need to hide from [their background], those guys, they learn a lot about culture and history when they come into the camp," Daley said.
"It's spoken about a lot and it's great that young guys feel like they can identify now rather than sort of not feeling confident to do it."
Indigenous All Stars stalwart Joel Thompson, one of the game's real off-field leaders when it comes to community and Indigenous issues, also praised the strength of the side and the experience of the week.
"It's a great side; to have 'JT' (Thurston) back in the side, one of the best players to have played the game and across the paddock it's a really good side and the All Stars side is a strong side as well so it should be a really good game," Thompson said.
"I love what I do. I'm in a privileged position being a rugby league player and I think it's for me now and other players to be that role model and help the rest of the community up and do what we do.
"This week in Newcastle will be a powerful week to get some strong messages across to the community and the kids. It's hard to put into words the effect it does have out there.
"It's a great week not just for the game but what we do in the community and it's a massive honour to be in this position."
The only contentious selection in the Indigenous side was that of Sharks prop Andrew Fifita, who was this week handed a breach notice by the NRL "relating to his on-field support for a convicted criminal during the Telstra Premiership", in relation to his public support for coward-punch killer Kieran Loveridge.
"It's an interesting one; he's been issued a [breach] notice but I think as far as what the selection criteria is, he was available for selection so the fans have picked him and he's been included," Daley said.
"I've coached him before and certainly had no issues with him and while he's available for selection he's always proud and loves playing in this game… it will all depend on what the breach notice says [and] whether he's looking at missing games or not, I'm not quite sure but he has been selected."