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You could forgive veteran forward Ryan James for getting a touch emotional when he speaks about his long-awaited return to the All Stars arena.

The proud Bundjalung man will run out in the Indigenous strip for the first time in five years; a stretch wracked by injury and bad luck.

But it's not just that. Last time he was selected in 2019, he had to withdraw due to a medial injury in his knee. It would have been the last time his maternal grandfather, from whom he gets his Aboriginal heritage, would have seen him play for the Indigenous All Stars.

"It's been a long time – last time I was available was that Melbourne game and then I did my medial," James told

"It's been a long trek back but I love representing my people. I actually haven't been able to represent the Indigenous All Stars since my pop passed and that's where I get my Aboriginality from.

"It will be great to run out there with the jersey on for him and represent him and my family.

"I was a bit devastated I didn't get to (play in 2019) – he's passed since then so it's a big game for me and my family."

Indigenous All Stars forward Ryan James.
Indigenous All Stars forward Ryan James. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

James's family has remained on the Bundjalung land of his grandfather and ancestors, with James growing up in Bilambil. But despite his close ties to his heritage, he still learned plenty more about that heritage from his time in All Stars camps going as far back to the second every game in 2011 after Preston Campbell created the concept in 2010.

"Growing up I knew I was of Aboriginal descent, my mother always drilled it into us but we didn't practice a lot of what our culture did but once you come into camp and you realise how much you're missing out on, you start to go back and ask those questions and practise those cultural things you want to do," James said.

"It's just great to be part of and really gets you back to your roots because we're the longest living civilisation in the world and to learn about that is unbelievable.

"I grew up in Bilambil, mum came from Fingal so the Bundjalung tribe there and there's a fair few of us boys there. It's great we all get to come together and play as a team because Presto [Preston Campbell] came up with the concept back when I was playing with him at the Titans, for it to turn into something like this is very special."

James praised the growth in the concept in the time he's been out, with a World All Stars concept replaced by a Maori team, which has elevated the cultural aspect and the passion on show.

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"It's been great; to add the Maori boys into it, it would be great for us boys to travel over there in the future," James said.

"Their culture is so embedded in what they do, they've grown up with it, for us to be able to take our culture over there and learn about them and learn about what they've done from such a young age and learn about that plus give back to New Zealand.

"The Warriors have given to us the last two years something massive, without them the NRL doesn't kick on so I think they deserve something in the future.

"We've had a lot of luck having it here but I think it might be time in the near future to give them a go. Warriors have committed to be here for another year so to get any sort of rugby league over there, get an All Stars match, anything would be great for them.

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"As a game, growing and going forward, we can do it between both countries.

"I know it's the Indigenous All Stars but they're Indigenous to their country and as much as I love having it here I'd love to go over there and learn about their culture and give back to New Zealand because without the Warriors we wouldn't have had NRL.

"It was great to be welcomed by them the other day and we've learned the new way how to welcome another people onto our land. It's just those things where you're constantly learning, it really opens your eyes about how they did it back in the day."


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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