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With 10 All Stars on debut for each of the Maori and Indigenous sides on Saturday, there is a clear changing of the guard underway as the next generation embrace the concept.

Brought in by Preston Campbell in 2010, Campbell's then-Titans teammate Ryan James made his first appearance just one year later with Andrew Fifita debuting one year after that. For the Maori, Kevin Proctor and Jordan Rapana each appeared as far back as 2008 in a World Cup warm-up against an Aboriginal Dreamtime team.

But with 50% of each squad making their first All Stars appearance, there will be a definite next-generation feel about Saturday's game.

"It's great to see the new blood coming through and how they're going to represent their culture and what it means to be an Aboriginal man and represent your people," Bundjalung man Ryan James told NRL.com.

"I was back in the stands in 2010 watching them before coming in in 2011 and some of these boys are in that situation right now. Look at big Shaq (Shaquai Mitchell) who's probably been watching from the stands for a while and now he's training at the Rabbitohs.

"That was me in 2010 and I went on to play a fair bit of first grade after that.

Inglis confident Indigenous All Stars can lift the trophy


"Nicho (Hynes), we had one of those sit-down sessions and he said he didn't know too much about his culture but he is definitely learning and putting his best foot forward to learn everything about it.

"That's something you have to respect in someone, he's definitely trying his best to learn about it and you can see it. That's what this week's about, learning, knowing where you come from.

Once you get out there and do the war cry and you see the feeling and meaning behind it, it's a whole different game.

Ryan James Indigenous All Stars

"I was the same when I first came into camp."

James's Broncos teammate and Wakka Wakka man Selwyn Cobbo is one of the exciting young stars on debut.

"It's a big opportunity to come into this camp; I'm really grateful, it's my first one and I'm really proud of how far I've come," Cobbo told NRL.com.

"Off the field we spend so much time together, doing so much culture stuff. It's good to be around the boys, it's just a proud feeling.

"I've been watching it all my life. That first game, Presto and Wendell Sailor and all the greats.

"All them older players have been good so far showing us around and telling us what it means to be a part of this team and what it's like to be Aboriginal and showing how proud we all are, they've been really good.

"Once they leave we'll have all that stuff they gave us and we can pass it down the line when new players come through."

Johnathan Thurston's Preston Campbell Medal performance


Another of the exciting debutants, Cowboys speedster and Saibai Island man Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, told NRL.com of his excitement to make his first All Stars appearance.

"When they first played the All Stars game it was exciting to watch that, playing for your mob and for your family," Tabuai-Fidow said.

"I was pretty excited when I saw my name on the team list. I rang my parents and told them I made the team.

"It's exciting for myself and the other young boys that are making their debut and coming into camp. I'm keen to camp and get amongst the boys.

"Just meeting the boys I haven't met before in the squad and making lifelong friends after having a good camp. I'm excited to see and listen to the stuff about culture they do during the camp."

Sailor and Campbell recount iconic try


Tabuai-Fidow's clubmate, Darnley and Boigu man Reuben Cotter, is making his second Indigenous All Stars appearance and welcomed the chance to continue his path towards learning about his First Nations heritage, which he derives from his mother's side.

Cotter lamented the COVID-related travel difficulties that have prevented him from making his first trip to the Torres Strait Islands of Boigu and Darnley but hopes to visit the lands of his ancestry sooner than later.

"I was in contact with my family back home, my aunties and uncles gave me a bit more insight about it," Cotter told NRL.com.

"There's still a lot I don't know. I've never actually been back to Darnley and Boigu and really want to in the coming off seasons. Due to COVID and stuff last year I obviously couldn't do too much."

Cotter said Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker were two of the biggest voices in last year's camp, and really made an impression on him.

"You could see how passionate they were about their culture and where they were from and knew a lot about it," he said.

"It's something that resonated with me and made me want to learn more about it. The passion they speak with when they're talking about their family and culture and where they're from, it's pretty inspiring.

NRL All Stars updated teams

"I'd like to think of myself as a bit of a leader and it's obviously something I'm still trying to work on. Within my culture too there's so much more to learn, I feel like I'm at the beginning of learning of that part of the culture."

In just his second year Cotter was already noticing a changing of the guard.

"There's a lot of new faces in this team but with that there's a lot of new talent as well," he said.

"There's sort of the next generation of young footballers as well. There's a lot of young players coming through. This All Stars squad will be a glimpse of the future.

"Coming into a new side you're always a bit nervous but having done it last year I'm more relaxed and know what to expect."

Unreal All Stars: Latrell leads the War Cry

Titans recruit Will Smith, a Gumbaynggirr and Anaiwan man, was still pinching himself about getting his second cap and first since 2016.

"For myself I think it's the best game I can be a part of throughout my career," Smith said.

"I know a lot of other Indigenous players would say the same thing. For me it's the biggest game of the year. My family, my culture, my people and the next generation."

Sharks playmaking trio, Wiradjuri man Nicho Hynes and Gamilaroi cousins Brayden Trindall and Will Kennedy, will all be making their All Stars debut together in something of an audition to keep their combination going in round one for Cronulla.

Will's sister Kandy is already a four-time Indigenous All Stars representative, with Will speaking this week of his pride in representing his culture – an opportunity that didn't exist when his father, Will 'Bubba' Kennedy, played for Balmain in the 1990s.

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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