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Benji out but Maori maintain focus on flair for All Stars clash

Benji Marshall is out of the All Stars but coach David Kidwell said his absence won't stop the New Zealand Maori side from throwing the ball around.

The Maori team lost 34-14 in last year’s match against an Indigenous team who played an enterprising style of football many of the players were familiar with from Koori and Murri knockouts.

Kidwell insists his team will play an expansive brand of football in the annual clash with the Indigenous All Stars at Cbus Super Stadium on February 22.

Last year's clash in Melbourne was the first time the teams had met since the curtain-raiser to the 2008 World Cup opener, which inspired Preston Campbell to lobby for the All Stars concept after Indigenous players in the Australian team expressed disappointment at not being able to represent their culture.

"Maori teams have a great history in rugby league and all the Great Britain sides that have come over and played us [in New Zealand] have always found it tough to play the Maoris," Kidwell said.

Indigenous vs NZ Maori - 2008 Rugby League World Cup

"Watching the game last year, and watching the decade of games with the Indigenous team, they play a style of football that is great to watch and makes for an exciting game.

"Our style is similar to the Indigenous team. We play with a lot of flair, we use our skill and we intend to make sure the game is a great spectacle."

Kidwell, who represented Aotearoa Maori at the 2000 World Cup, has taken over the coaching role from NRL Hall of Famer Stacey Jones and he said the style he wanted the team to play would be reflected in the selections.

Few players would have suited an expansive game plan better than Marshall but the soon to be 35-year-old has withdrawn from selection to ensure he starts the season fresh with the Tigers after only recently returning to training following his Test commitments with the Kiwis.

"Benji is unavailable, unfortunately, but I totally understand that as he is a little bit older now," Kidwell said.

"We would have loved to have him in the team but there are some young, exciting halves throughout the NRL with Maori heritage we will look to bring in."

Warriors halves Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita are likely to share the playmaking duties with Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes, while Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga is expected to wear the No.1 jersey after starting last year’s match at five-eighth.

Kidwell is spoilt for choice in the forwards, with the likes of Adam Blair, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Kevin Proctor, James Tamou, Tohu Harris, James Fisher Harris, Corey Harawira-Naera and Joseph Tapine among his options.

Melbourne’s Brandon Smith, St George Illawarra recruit Issac Luke and Canterbury’s Jason Marshall-King are hooking options.

Match Highlights: Indigenous All Stars v NZ Maori All Stars

Proctor and Tamou played for the Maori in the World Cup curtain-raiser and also in the team that drew 18-18 with England at Mt Smart Stadium before the 2010 Four Nations tournament.

"It has been a decade since Preston had that vision and we encourage all supporters of the game to get there and watch the best of the best of indigenous cultures," Kidwell said.

"It is a great way for indigenous cultures to celebrate their heritage in the NRL. We’d like to see this being a game that happens every year for at least another decade."

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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