A revamped NFL Pro Bowl will kick off at 11am Monday morning AEDT and 2013 Golden Boot winner Johnathan Thurston has urged NRL officials to consider a similar format for future Indigenous All Stars fixtures.
Given the late finish to the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and introduction of the Auckland Nines tournament in 2014, the All Stars game has been substituted by a Festival of Indigenous Rugby League that will be held in Newcastle next week. A week of activities will culminate in a trial match between the Newcastle Knights and First Nation Goannas on February 8 but where the All Stars game will fit into future schedules remains a point of conjecture.
The Pro Bowl, featuring the NFL's best players not involved in the Super Bowl, takes some of the spotlight as the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos enjoy a week to fine-tune their preparations for the most watched television event in America and Thurston sees no reason why a similar format couldn't work in the NRL.
"I hope it's still got a place on the calendar," Thurston told NRL.com of the future of the All Stars concept. "I was consulted about it this year and I know the intensity that game gets played at so having three weeks of pre-season for most of the boys that are coming back from the World Cup wouldn't have been right.
"I think they made the right decision there in laying off the All Stars [for 2014] but hopefully it's got a place on the calendar somewhere. Whether they could do it sort of like the NFL... Obviously the Grand Final teams have a week off and all the players who aren't playing in that game can be chosen for the All Stars that week."
For the first time Monday's Pro Bowl goes away from the traditional AFC v NFC match-up and instead has used votes by fans, players and coaches to pick players regardless of team or conference. By holding the game in Hawaii players involved get to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere while Super Bowl XLVIII combatants Denver and Seattle prepare to meet in frozen New York State on February 2.
If the NRL were to follow suit, a week off for the two teams who qualify for the Telstra Premiership Grand Final would also open up the opportunity for the respective grand finals of the Intrust Super Cup and VB NSW Cup to take on greater significance in their respective states before the National Championship decider on Grand Final day.
With the All Stars concept founded on the Gold Coast and then played in Brisbane 12 months ago, Thurston is eager to see the game move around the nation and showcase the game's best players to fans in a variety of rugby league communities.
"It could probably move around a bit and take it to different communities," said Thurston, who has captained the Indigenous All Stars team in each of the four games against the NRL All Stars to date. "Obviously the rugby league community is fairly big so we could take it to different local communities, like Newcastle and places like that, because the fans don't get to see players of that calibre in the one place so that's an idea they could consider.
"I think [the All Stars has] been great for the game, that's for sure."
Next Monday: Thurston on why the Cowboys had to change their ways.