The Indigenous All Stars clash with the New Zealand Maori makes me excited but also nervous.

As a fan, I am always excited by the Harvey Norman All Stars game.

As a former player I also get the closest feeling to pre-match nerves, as I would love to be able to pull on the boots one more time.

Hopefully the players will feel the same as pre-match nerves always suggest the boys are geared for a big performance.

This historic game against the Maori in Melbourne has special significance for me as the "Welcome to Country" game in 2008, which was the driving forced behind the All Stars concept.

The Maori team had the same special connection to their people and culture that made the game a highlight of the careers of all the players involved.

However, the real inspiration came from engagement with the community across the week, where we were mobbed by supporters of the team.

Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis were among members of the Kangaroos team who joined us on a number of occasions and they were envious of the opportunity we had.

JT and GI's desire to play for their mob helped drive the case for the All Stars.

Greg Inglis and the Indigenous All Stars at the 2015 All Stars game.
Greg Inglis and the Indigenous All Stars at the 2015 All Stars game. ©NRL Photos

It is a desire reflected in the decision of Latrell Mitchell to request to play in the game and miss the opportunity to play in the World Club Challenge in England.

"I can't wait to get amongst my culture and to rip in and represent my people in the All Stars game, and then go into the season fresh and ready to play for the Roosters," Latrell said.

"I know the Roosters boys are ready to go to England and rip in. I have spoken to a few of them and they have told me to go and represent my culture so I'm pretty happy with the decision I made."

Full marks to Trent Robinson and the Roosters for supporting Latrell.

In 2008 I described my appointment as captain of the Dreamtime Team as the equal of any of my achievements in the game.

To this day it has only been matched by being named as the captain of the first All Stars team.

I know that winning a premiership is every player's dream, but to represent your people is an honour that all the boys were proud to achieve.

It is also a great opportunity for relatively unknown players to make their mark.

In 2008 the Maori had youngsters by the names of Kevin Proctor, James Tamou and Jordan Rapana in their team.

Kevin and James return as seasoned international players and I still have images of a fearsome Proctor in the famous pre-match war dances performed by both teams.

This is why I am excited by the opportunity for Dragons prop Josh Kerr, who has been named as the Ryan James's replacement.

As disappointed as I am for Ryan I can remember when he travelled to Brisbane for the 2011 team announcement.

He expected to be picked as part of a development squad being named by Laurie Daley.

Although a university graduate, Ryan obviously couldn't count as there were only 20 players at the announcement and he was surprised, shocked and delighted when Laurie called out his name.

His performance against a powerful NRL All Stars pack established him as a star of the future.

Now the Gold Coast Titans captain, he was selected in the squad to play the Maori Kiwis on February 15 at AAMI Park but withdrew due to a knee niggle.

It will hopefully provide the same platform for Josh, who is a proud Ngugi, Noonuckle and Geopul man of the Quandamooka nation of Stradbroke Island.

Josh will be immediately welcomed into a team by a connection of pride in his family, his mob and his culture.

The same as the pride that motivated Latrell in his decision.

Preston Campbell after the 2010 All Stars game.
Preston Campbell after the 2010 All Stars game. ©NRL Photos

It is this pride that is still at the centre of All Stars.

It is a pride that is also shared by the Maori team.

It is a shared pride that can take the All Stars to the next level.

I am excited ... and nervous!

 

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