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Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall has today been named to replace Darren Lockyer as captain of the 2012 NRL All Stars, while coach Wayne Bennett also unveiled a revolutionary new “power-play” rule to be trialled during the February 4 match on the Gold Coast.

Bennett made the announcements today while officially launching the opening of the first stage of “public” voting for his team for the third annual Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars match at Skilled Park.

The launch of the “power play” continues the innovative approach of the Harvey Norman All Stars in testing new rules.

The “power play” will allow coaches the opportunity to maximise their attacking play with captains able to nominate a 5-minute period in both halves whereby the opposition must drop two players from the field of play (refer to end of document for rules changes brief).

Another key innovation is a widening of differential penalties to ensure greater speed and continuity.

Under the experimental rules, infringements in the ruck area will be followed by an immediate restart of the tackle count at the point of the infringement with a zero tackle; as well as the 40/20 rule to include 20/40 kicks in play.

Bennett said the new rules will excite fans and players alike.

“The All Stars is an incredibly important event for rugby league,” he said. “It is played in a great spirit, it is played with great passion and there is a real focus on attack.

“The power play is a real chance for teams to back themselves with the ball and I am really looking forward to it.

“Certainly with Benji as the All Stars captain we are going to see people having a real go.”

As captain and also being the NZ skipper, the 2011 Golden Boot winner is an automatic selection in the 20-man NRL All Stars squad. In addition, following the retirement of Darren Lockyer, Storm captain Cameron Smith takes his place as the Australian team’s automatic selection.

The public now take on the role of selector and will vote on the 16 players to join Marshall and Smith. An additional two players will be selected by Bennett at the completion of stage two voting in January.

Fans have until December 23 to be a selector in the first stage of voting at for one of the greatest coaches in rugby league history. As in previous years, they must choose two forwards and two backs from each club to form a shortlist for Bennett to then refine his team for stage two of the voting.

At the completion of stage one voting, Bennett will place the 64 players chosen into his preferred positions, as well as outlining the make-up of the bench positions. Stage two of voting will commence December 27, where the public have the challenge of selecting just one player from each of the 16 NRL clubs to join Marshall’s side.

Bennett and the NRL All Stars coaching staff select the remaining two players to form the final 20-man squad.

“We will have a real challenge on our hands this year with both sides equally determined to take the lead in the series,” Bennett said.

“The public did a great job selecting a team for me this year and it will be very interesting to see what they come up with this time.

“Darren Lockyer is a significant loss to us but Benji Marshall has been a part of All Stars since its inception and I have every confidence in his ability to lead the team.”

Marshall said it was an honour to be chosen by Bennett to follow Lockyer as the 2012 NRL All Stars captain.

“I feel very privileged to be replacing Darren Lockyer as captain, in particular knowing that Wayne Bennett made the decision,” Marshall said.

“This game brings together some of the best players from across our game and the crowd are in for quite a match given the one-all draw. There is no question that both sides play with absolute intensity.”

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said hosting the only representative match in Australian sport where the public selects the teams is a great coup for Queensland.

“This match brings together rugby (league's) best Indigenous and non-indigenous players in a powerful celebration of the diversity of rugby league,” said Ms Bligh.

“In 2011, more than 25,800 people gathered at Skilled Park for the NRL All Stars match – filling hotels, cafes and restaurants, giving a boost to the local economy and the Queensland tourism industry.

“That is why the Queensland Government, through Events Queensland, is proud to support this event as part of a three year agreement which brings one of the most exciting exhibition matches to the Gold Coast until at least 2013.”

Overview of NRL All Stars voting:
The first player to be chosen in the NRL All Stars team will be the player who scores the highest number of overall votes in a position.
- Once a player from one club is placed in the team, no other player from that club can be selected.
- If a player 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, with the new player having recorded the second-highest number of votes from that club, either as a forward, back or utility, depending on the position needed for the bench. 

Tickets are available through Ticketek outlets, on 132 849 or New Zealand customers can call 0800 842 538 or +61 132 849.

All Stars ticket categories and prices

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Rule changes for 2012 All Stars
Power play
- Each team will receive one (1) optional power play in each half of the match.
- Once a team captain nominates to the match referee that they wish to use their power play for the half at a stoppage in play (changeover, scrum etc.), the opposition team must immediately drop two (2) players from the field of play for a 5 minute period (11 players on the field of play). 
- If the team who called the power play scores a try during this period, the power play will end immediately and the two players who left the field may return.   
- Players returning to the field of play must do so under the supervision of the interchange official.
- The team defending the power play will make the decision which two players leave the field from their team during the power play.
- Once a power play has been called, the opposition team may not call their power play at the same time.  If both teams call a power play at the same time, the team about to receive possession will be granted the power play.
- A second clock will appear on the scoreboard showing the time period for the power play.

Changes to penalties in the ruck area
- For infringements in the ruck area by the defending team (holding down, leg pull, hand on ball etc.) which does not result in the breakdown of play (i.e. drop ball),  the referee will indicate the infringement followed by immediately restarting the tackle count at the point of the infringement with a zero tackle.
- There will be no kick for touch for these infringements. Play will continue immediately from the point of the infringement. 
- Any foul play in the ruck area by the defending team will result in a traditional penalty.
- Any infringement by the attacking team in the ruck area will result in a traditional penalty.

20/40 kicks in play
- A team which kicks the ball from within their own 20m area and can successfully find touch within the 40m area of the defending team will receive the feed to the ensuing scrum.