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NRL All Stars team announced

NRL All Stars coach Wayne Bennett has sprung his first selection surprise of the season naming Dragons captain Ben Hornby, along with newly appointed Panthers skipper Luke Lewis, as his two “coach’s selections” in the 2012 NRL All Stars side announced today.

Almost 30,000 Rugby League fans have had their say via two online voting stages to select a representative from each of the 16 NRL clubs in the 20-man squad, which includes 10 NRL All Stars debutants.

The 2012 NRL All Stars team for the 2012 Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars game on February 4 at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast is:
Josh Dugan (Canberra Raiders)
Jason Nightingale* (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Jack Reed* (Brisbane Broncos)
Michael Jennings (Penrith Panthers)
Manu Vatuvei (Warriors)
Benji Marshall - Captain (Wests Tigers) #
Cooper Cronk* (Melbourne Storm)
Kade Snowden* (Newcastle Knights)
Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm) #
Luke Bailey (Gold Coast Titans)
Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta Eels)
David Taylor (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks)

Interchange:

Adam Blair (Wests Tigers)
Frank Pritchard* (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves* (Sydney Roosters)
Tony Williams* (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles)
Brent Tate* (North Queensland Cowboys)

Coach's Selections:
Luke Lewis* (Penrith Panthers)
Ben Hornby* (St George Illawarra Dragons)

* NRL All Stars debutants
# Automatic selection

NSW and Sharks captain Paul Gallen was again the most popular player, gaining over 8000 votes to be the public favourite for the second successive year, finishing 333 votes ahead of debutant Cooper Cronk.

This final stage of voting, which closed at midnight last night, also saw the closest margin in the three-year history of All Stars deliver a fairytale “representative” comeback to the Cowboys’ former international Brent Tate with a spot on the interchange bench.

Tate, who pipped team-mate Dallas Johnson by just two votes for the one North Queensland spot, was almost forced into retirement in November 2010 when he underwent his third knee reconstruction following his injury in the Four Nations Final.

Hornby’s selection also marks a fairytale return to the representative stage, with Bennett selecting him from outside of the 64-man shortlist (four players from each club) chosen by the public in December.

Bennett also delivered a lifeline to Lewis, who was set to be in the team until Wests Tigers centre Chris Lawrence withdrew on Monday. This saw the next highest-ranked centre, Michael Jennings, replace Lawrence and take up the one Panthers spot in the public voting stage.

The public had to choose only one player from each of the 16 NRL Clubs in position to join automatic selections Benji Marshall and Cameron Smith and two coach’s picks to make up the 20-man squad as announced today in Sydney. Bennett was joined by Marshall and All Stars debutant Waerea-Hargreaves at the announcement to reveal the exciting line-up.

“The fans have selected a great team for me to work with but to balance out an interchange bench that is well-stocked with forwards, I wanted to include a player like Ben Hornby who gives me some insurance in the halves and at fullback,” Bennett said.

“Ben is someone who has never let me down in my three years coaching him at the Dragons and is perfectly suited to All Stars.

“Likewise Luke Lewis is another very experienced utility player who will give me a number of options. He represents everything that is good about the game and deserves a spot in the team.”

If one of the NRL All Stars players announced today withdraws from the team due to injury, he will be replaced by someone from the bench. The open bench spot will then be replaced by someone from the injured player’s club.

Over 45,000 Rugby League fans took part in the voting for both the NRL All Stars and Learn Earn Legend! Indigenous All Stars teams.

“The Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars is a match that everyone in Rugby League takes great pride in, because it is a match which everyone contributes to - the players, the clubs, the fans,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

“It is a game that stands for so much more than a result. To be a part of this team is to be acknowledged by the game’s fans and to play alongside and against some of the biggest names in Rugby League.

“I congratulate everyone today who is selected to be a part of the 2012 NRL All Stars.”

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh welcomed the announcement of the NRL All Stars team today: “Congratulations to the 2012 NRL All Stars team set to compete in an event which brings one of the most exciting exhibition matches to the Gold Coast.

“What a great honour to play in the 2012 NRL All Stars jersey which displays the heartfelt message “We Play Tonight in Your Honour” in tribute to Rugby League legend Arthur Beetson.

“Queenslanders are proud of their Rugby League heritage with last year’s Rugby League All Stars match drawing a sell-out crowd of 26,000 – which is great for the Gold Coast tourism industry, supporting local businesses and jobs.

“That is why the Queensland Government, through Events Queensland, is proud to continue supporting this unique match which brings together Rugby League’s best Indigenous and non-Indigenous players.”

The 2012 Learn Earn Legend! Indigenous All Stars team, named in December, is:
Johnathan Thurston (c), Ben Barba, Jharal Yow Yeh, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Nathan Merritt, Chris Sandow, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Travis Waddell, George Rose, Sam Thaiday, Jamal Idris, Greg Bird, Andrew Fifita, Cory Paterson, Matthew Bowen, Scott Prince, Anthony Mitchell, Joel Thompson and Nathan Peats.

Can’t wait for the 2012 fantasy season to kick off?
NRL fantasy fans - get your fix early with the all new Toyota All-Stars Dream Team!
Pick 6 players from the All Star and Indigenous All Star squads, then see how your Dream Team performs on the field Feb 4 at Skilled Stadium.

Your players earn fantasy points for their real life efforts, as your Dream Team battles thousands of other coaches and their hand-picked teams.

At the end of the game, the coach with the highest points will win $5,000 cash! If teams are tied for points, the coach who registered first wins the lot.

Toyota All-Stars Dream Team registrations open Wednesday, January 25 on NRL.com, so get in quick and good luck!

Getting to the game
Those attending the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars game at Skilled Park on February 4 are encouraged to catch public transport with additional buses scheduled for the match and Robina Station being only a short walk from the stadium.
For more information on public transport to the match visit: www.translink.com.au/events

Tickets
There are still tickets available to the February 4 match, at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast through Ticketek outlets, on 132 849 or www.ticketek.com.au. New Zealand customers can call 0800 842 538 or +61 132 849.

Results
2010 – Indigenous All Stars 16 def NRL All Stars 12
2011 – NRL All Stars 28 def Indigenous All Stars 12.

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