Former Test and Origin great Johnathan Thurston has praised the ARL Commission for listening to the concerns of Indigenous players and scrapping Advance Australia Fair before the annual All Stars match.
Thurston, who was one of the driving forces behind the All Stars concept, joined NRL head of football Graham Annesley and male and female players in contention for the Indigenous and Maori teams to launch the 10th iteration of the fixture on February 20 in Townsville.
The former Kangaroos and Maroons superstar played 14 seasons for North Queensland and predicted the first All Stars match at the 25,000 capacity QCB Stadium would be a sell-out as fans turn out to support the Indigenous team’s quest to avenge last year’s 10-4 loss to the Maori.
However, Thurston said the All Stars concept was bigger than just a game as it provided an opportunity to promote Indigenous and Maori cultures, values and beliefs.
With Wallabies players joining schoolgirl Olivia Fox to sing a verse of Advance Australia Fair in Dharug language before last weekend’s Test against Argentina, it has revived debate about whether a dual-language version of the national anthem should be performed more regularly.
This has previously been done before NRL fixtures, with the first verse of the anthem sung in the language of the Eora nation at the third match of the 2010 State of Origin series at ANZ Stadium.
NRL School to Work graduate Rebecca Hatch also performed a dual language version of Advance Australia Fair before the opening game of the 2018 Indigenous Round between Wests Tigers and North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval.
Thurston played in both matches and always sung the anthem but Indigenous players feel the meaning behind the words is still the same in any language and he supports the ARLC decision earlier this year to scrap Advance Australia Fair before All Stars matches.
"As rugby league players it’s great our voice can be heard for creating social change," Thurston said on Tuesday.
"We do a lot in the community, obviously education wise and employment wise, and a lot of players are ambassadors for a lot of different programs but this is something that is close to the playing group’s heart.
"Speaking personally to some of the players, they feel as though the anthem doesn’t represent them – that’s why they don’t sing it - and it’s great the Commission are taking those opinions on board and hearing what they’re saying.
"They are speaking on behalf of the Indigenous players that are playing in the game so to have their voice heard and have the Commission listening to how they feel about certain issues is great.
"That’s what it’s all about - coming together, hearing each other’s voice and making decisions based on how we feel and what is best moving forward."
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Thurston was joined at the launch by Cowboys players Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Reuben Cotter, who hope to make their debuts for the Indigenous All Stars team against a Maori side likely to include teammates Esan Marsters and Jordan McLean.
Sydney Roosters captain Corban McGregor, who represented her Maori heritage last year, and Mackay-based Brisbane Broncos forward Shaniah Power were also in attendance.
"It is good to see that everyone is really invested in the women’s sector of the All Stars game as well," Power said. "It really is more than just a game when it comes to All Stars, I believe."
Cotter said: "Watching it when I was growing up I always thought it would be a pretty cool game to be a part of and being in Townsville this time it will be a big occasion with the big Indigenous population we have here."
Thurston, who was among the leading Indigenous stars who worked with Preston Campbell to convince NRL clubs and management to introduce the All Stars concept in 2010, predicted a "cracking game" he believes will have a positive impact in North Queensland.
"The work you do in the community far outweighs the game but as a player you are there to perform on the night so there will be a lot of feeling with both proud cultures coming together to play this game," Thurston said.
"The build-up is totally different, you are doing a lot more work in the community and that is what it is about, giving the community a better understanding of both cultures, but we are competitive and that drive doesn’t go away so both teams will want to perform on the night as well."
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