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Eels recruit Blake Ferguson.

After revealing Blake Ferguson was likely to spend some time playing in the back row to help the Indigenous All Stars cope with a forward shortage against the New Zealand Maori, Laurie Daley joked: "That’s my payback."

Daley, the Indigenous All Stars coach, had just been asked about his relationship with Ferguson after the fallout from NSW’s State of Origin series defeat in 2017 that cost them both their roles with the Blues.

While controversy over Ferguson’s decision to drink with close mate Josh Dugan at a Lennox Heads pub in the lead-up to Origin III was not the reason for Daley’s sacking as Blues coach, he had been disappointed by the pair’s actions and failure to seek his permission.   

Daley insisted there would be no awkwardness between him and Ferguson when they go into camp for the All Stars match at AAMI Stadium on February 15.

"What happened back then is well documented and I have no issue in terms of what happened," Daley said. "While it was disappointing at the time, I think everyone has moved on.

"I moved on very quickly, I probably reflected on that for a couple of months and I have seen Fergo, I have seen Duges … I’ve spoken to them at functions, I have spoken to them around the joint.

Indigenous All Stars prop Andrew Fifita.
Indigenous All Stars prop Andrew Fifita. ©NRL Photos

"I don’t hold grudges against anyone and I know what they are like too. It would be more difficult I suppose if I hadn’t ran into them before."

Despite being arguably the best winger in the NRL last season and a key member of the Sydney Roosters' premiership-winning team, Ferguson was overlooked for Origin selection as new NSW coach Brad Fittler preferred Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr on the flanks.

Daley said he had no hesitation in adding Ferguson to an otherwise all-Blues three-quarter line-up of Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell, Brisbane’s James Roberts and Addo-Carr.

"He was magnificent last season, he was really good so we are expecting him to bring that type of form," Daley said. "Although what he did was pretty special, we will need him to make those 16 or 18 carries per game because we are pretty thin in the forward pack with a couple of guys pulling out.

"We will probably have to use a couple of our backs as forwards at some point so he might find himself in the back row, big Fergo. That’s my payback."

With Ryan James, Joel Thompson, Jack Bird and Kyle Turner ruled out through injury, Daley will be forced to rely on Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita to lead the Indigenous pack.

Fifita was in and out of the NSW squad during Daley’s tenure as coach and it is known he was frustrated at times by the Cronulla star's consistency and attitude but he has matured since taking on a leadership role with Tonga during the 2017 World Cup.

Latrell Mitchell: Why I chose All Stars

"Andrew is maturing into a leader, I think you can see him working on his game off the field," Daley said. "He is an influential player and he is a leader, and that is what Cronulla need, it is what Tonga need and it is what the All Stars need.

"There is no questioning his ability and his talent when he harnesses it in the right way. Sometimes he is probably guilty of doing too much but you take the good with the bad.

"He is a guy who is unconventional at times but that is what makes him the player he is. He can do things that others can’t and when he is good he is very good."

All Stars preparation begins

After initially naming James in the team, Daley was forced to draft in rookie St George Illawarra prop Josh Kerr on Friday due to a lack of forward depth and he said Storm centre Will Chambers was another player who could spend some time in the back row.

Yet what the Indigenous team lacks in size they will make up with passion, and Daley said Mitchell’s decision to forego the World Club Challenge with the Roosters to represent his heritage was an indication of what the All Stars match meant to the players.

"It’s pretty impressive that a guy is prepared to put his culture ahead of his club," Daley said. "He realises that his club is very important as well, but he felt that his heart was telling him to stay and play in the game.

"He knows what this game can do for a lot of other young Aboriginal boys and he will be a future leader and a guy who will make a huge impact in Indigenous and Aboriginal communities around Australia.

"I’m sure all the other boys in camp will get a lift out of the fact Latrell has made it his priority and wants to play in it."

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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