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Justin Hodges says the NRL All Stars game is more than just another pre-season match.

Given the talk around the future of the All Stars concept the past few days I do have genuine concerns for its future but we must always ensure it has a place on rugby league's calendar, and I'll tell you why.

This is an incredibly important week for the Indigenous community and while the game acts as the vehicle the significance of the week is not so much the 80 minutes on the field but the interaction the boys have with kids and the community.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a glorified trial where the Indigenous boys have a run around and a bit of fun. We play with incredible pride and passion because there is nothing more important to us than spending time with our families and the community and then making sure they go home from the game happy after a win.

If you ask any Indigenous player you will get the same answer every time; it's a game they love playing in. Some players will probably never get to play representative football so it is an opportunity to be able to represent and represent their people.

The general public might not think it is but this is a massive game and when we get in there and train we're preparing to win.

But the real importance of All Stars week relates more to the big picture and if they take the game away then it's a week of a proud history of being Indigenous that the kids miss out on and for us players that's what it's all about.

One of the great initiatives of All Stars week is the Youth Summit that happens in conjunction and the impact on those kids who represent the next generation of Indigenous leaders is massive.

They not only get to meet the likes of Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Sam Thaiday and Ben Barba but to sit down with them, interact and learn more about their own Indigenous heritage all while having a bit of fun with the boys.

It's as rewarding for us players as it is for the kids.

We see them when we go out to visit schools, they come to training and then at the game they get to watch their favourite players and their heroes run around. That's the most pleasing thing.

There's no doubt that players withdrawing from both teams does have an impact on the game but you still have some of the best players in the world taking part on both sides and given how passionate Brisbane people are about their rugby league I'm sure we will see a crowd of close to 40,000 on Saturday night.

Whether it can remain in what is now a packed pre-season schedule is up for debate and I would like to see the NRL consider moving it to the end of the season, perhaps the week before the grand final.

The stars of the top two teams of the season obviously won't be able to take part and there will be others who are booked in for end-of-season surgeries but that may be the best option to limit the impact on clubs conscious of losing their players for any period of the regular season.

For us it's very important that the game does stay but they just have to find the right place to put it.

Justin Hodges' son watches his father during the national anthem of the 2015 NRL All Stars game.


I'm really excited to see James Roberts make his debut for the Indigenous All Stars this week and also take my position in the Broncos backline when the season gets underway.

Obviously he's going to have a lot more speed than the last No.4 but I'm happy with the decision I've made to retire and to see another proud Indigenous boy come in and take my spot is ideal.

I've worked really closely with Jordan Kahu and Dale Copley in recent years and would have been happy to see them step in but I'm looking forward to seeing those guys make their own mark.

Playing at the Broncos under Wayne Bennett will give James the chance to play football without thinking he has to do everything on his own.

He's come from a team at the Titans who have had some up-and-down seasons the last couple of years but being at the Broncos he'll have so many great players around him.

Playing outside the likes of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford will take plenty of pressure off him and don't underestimate the influence that Darius Boyd will have on him. 'Darbs' will be massive for Jimmy.

All James will have to worry about is making sure that he is there at the right time and ready for the opportunities when they come his way.

As a member of the Indigenous All Stars team this week he is playing in front of the nation so it's a good chance to make sure he starts the season on the right note.

Retired Broncos and Maroons legend Justin Hodges is host of League Nation Live which will be shown on Wednesday nights on SBS from March 2.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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