Local players welcome All Stars to Newcastle
Locally grown players such as Indigenous Women's team captain Bec Young and centre Caitlyn Moran plus Knights star Sione Mata'utia have praised the decision to move the annual fixture to the Hunter, an area they describe as having proud Aboriginal heritage.
Moran and Mata'utia are schoolmates from Hunter Sports High while Young describes herself as a traditional owner from Worimi who grew up in Fern Bay, attended Newcastle High and, like Moran and Mata'utia, still lives in the area.
"This is a really strong rugby league community and it's also a strong Indigenous community," Young told NRL.com.
"To have those two marry together, I think it's a perfect opportunity and Newcastle has always been about opportunity.
"Lots of families, especially Indigenous families, have come here for opportunity and this is a great promotion for the game. It could bring about social change because of that hope."
The connection with the community runs deep – Young cited the example of Newcastle High principal Nathan Towney who is on the board of the ARL's Indigenous Council. "To be able to have that connection with this community is going to be great," she added.
Mata'utia is suiting up for the World All Stars for the first time and said as soon as he heard the game would be in Newcastle he wanted to be involved. He will be proudly representing his Samoan heritage on the weekend in a game where cultures such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Cook Islands, New Zealand Maori, Italy and even Gambia in Africa will be represented.
"It's a big, diverse culture in our team and I think it's awesome to have so many cultures all brought into one squad and celebrate the Indigenous culture we have here in Australia and to have it in Newcastle as well is awesome," Mata'utia told NRL.com.
"The Indigenous culture here [in Newcastle] is massive and the people definitely will be proud to have it in Newcastle. I'm proud to represent my culture, my heritage and also representing my club as well.
"Once I heard it was in Newcastle I was stoked to be a part of it and just playing at home, it's one of the best feelings. Growing up in Newcastle, it means a lot to myself as well and I know it means a lot to Indigenous people."
Moran – who was part of the recent Jillaroos clean sweep over the Kiwi Ferns in the Auckland Nines – said as much as she loved that experience it would have been nice to have some friends and family in attendance like she will this weekend.
"It's one of my favourite weeks. I love being around the girls and the vibe that we have in our team, especially getting to represent our culture, it's massive," Moran told NRL.com.
"I love that my family and community and friends can all just come to the game... it makes a difference knowing you can look up and see them in the crowd.
"Being able to spend time with the boys as well, me and Sione went to school together at Hunter Sports and we see each other around, it's awesome to have that local 'how you going' and not feel different to anyone else."