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For & Against: Can the Maori All Stars go back-to-back?

On a showpiece night for rugby league in Townsville on Saturday, David Kidwell's Maori All Stars will look to make it back-to-back wins over the Indigenous All Stars after emerging victorious 30-16 in Melbourne in 2020.

The star of the show in last year's game, Brandon Smith, is missing due to the lockdown in Melbourne, as are Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, but the Maori still boast a powerful line-up.

The Indigenous All Stars have lost try-scoring ace Josh Addo-Carr but their backline still oozes class and they'll be keen to get back to the free-flowing style which yielded them 34 points in 2017 and again in 2019.

In this week's For & Against, NRL.com journalists Paul Zalunardo and Martin Lenehan assess whether the Maori can again emerge victorious despite losing a number of their stars.  

Will the Maori All Stars win it again?

For – NRL.com senior journalist Paul Zalunardo

When COVID-19 stuck its horrible face back into rugby league last week there was talk the Maori All Stars team had been cast into turmoil ahead of Saturday night's match against the Indigenous team in Townsville.

Yes, six players from the Storm were ruled out, but apart from having to find new players over the weekend there wasn't any real disarray to speak of.

That's because the team was still yet to meet up. With the squad now adjusted it is all systems go for a group that's a good chance of winning.

Kidwell explains his decision to select Benji

Any side that loses a parade of Melbourne Storm players is going to miss them, but the 20-man squad coach David Kidwell has at his disposal is not without top-shelf talent.

The restructure of the team following the forced withdrawal of the Bromwich brothers (Jesse and Kenny), Jahrome Hughes, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Brandon Smith forced Kidwell to formulate a new plan. Let's not kid ourselves.

The depth may have been affected, but the starting 13 Kidwell is likely to field has what it takes to win.

Let's start with the attacking prowess. Star centre Joseph Manu would walk into any side anywhere in the world, Jarome Luai is coming off a breakout 2020 season and fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is in the upper echelon of talent in the Rolls Royce of positions right now – fullback.

Benji Marshall will orchestrate proceedings while winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and centre Dylan Walker will want to start extremely important years on a personal level on the right foot.

Then, in the forwards, there are arguably the two most-improved big men of the last 12 months. Joseph Tapine and James Fisher-Harris were immense in 2020, and there's no reason they can't further build on that this year.

A key battle will be the one between old bulls Andrew Fifita (Indigenous All Stars) and Maori prop Russell Packer. Both men want 2021 to be the year they remind everyone they aren't spent forces.

All Stars week is about much more than just football, but when referee Adam Gee blows his whistle on Saturday night, the Maori All Stars will be looking to cap a memorable week with a win.

If their big names play to their potential, that is on the cards.

Match Highlights: Indigenous All Stars v Maori All Stars

Against – NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan

The unfortunate timing of Melbourne's lockdown has robbed the game of some quality forwards but the two backlines remain pretty much intact and it's out wide where Laurie Daley's Indigenous All Stars hold the aces.

Storm flyer Josh Addo-Carr is a fan favourite and will be missed but there's class galore from Latrell Mitchell in the No.1 right through to mature age rookie Jamal Fogarty in the No.7 and points are sure to flow.

Mitchell hasn't played since August and will be bursting to get back on the paddock and strut his stuff, while his Bunnies teammate Alex Johnston scored tries for fun in 2020 and will relish being on the end of this electric backline.

The Big Three from Redfern is rounded out by five-eighth Cody Walker, whose ad lib style is made for this kind of game, where defence is inevitably be overrun by free flowing attack and the Queensland Country Bank crowd will be in for a treat.

Coming off a breakout season and full of confidence after the Titans' big finish to 2020, Fogarty is sure to be up for a big one and his showdown with the evergreen Benji Marshall should be an absolute beauty.

A couple of Blues Origin stars in Blake Ferguson and Jack Wighton will be on show out wide along with explosive Shark Jesse Ramien, who needs only the slightest whiff of a gap to be off and gone to the line.

Ferguson is on a roll in All Stars games, having scored in the past three matches, and there should be plenty of opportunities to extend that streak if the Indigenous side get an even share of possession and their halves get hot.

In stark contrast to the Maori pack which has lost a stack of firepower due to the lockdown, the Indigenous forwards have had a settled build-up and will look to old bull Andrew Fifita and young bull David Fifita to put them on the front foot.

All Stars: Where it all began

He may be destined for a bench role at the Sharks in 2021 but Andrew Fifita will be unleashed from the outset on Saturday and his passion is sure to inspire the likes of Josh Kerr, Tyrell Fuimaono and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown in the engine room.

If the Indigenous All Stars are to win, it's the experience of Mitchell, Ferguson, Wighton and Andrew Fifita that will come to the fore.

All have been centre stage in grand finals and State of Origins and they'll take charge of proceedings and ensure Daley's men make amends for last year's loss.

All Stars men's match

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Witness the best of the best from both sides of the Tasman. As athletes and as people from the First Nations. 

Hear us. See us. 

Be there as cultures collide.

Tickets are available at NRL Tickets.

 

All Stars men's match

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