Greg Bird says he is "dumbfounded" by the continued speculation surrounding the future of the NRL All Stars fixture and would be happy to trim a draining regular season if it helped keep the match on the rugby league calendar.
A year after departed NRL chief executive Dave Smith seemingly guaranteed its survival, the All Stars fixture appears to have to justify itself all over again after NRL football manager Todd Greenberg admitted it was under review.
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The match on the Gold Coast last year was reported to have lost $500,000 but the players involved, particularly the Indigenous representatives, would argue it's worth the money given the amount of good that comes from a week of school visits and clinics.
A crowd of about 40,000 is expected at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, leading a frustrated Bird to wonder why there was renewed scepticism about the viability of the match in coming seasons.
"I had the understanding it was embedded in the game," Bird said. "I find it strange every year when the same topic is brought up.
"We pack out stadiums, you see the involvement that all of the teams have, going to schools, talking to kids, running coaching clinics, doing government and community work ... I don't understand why it keeps popping up.
"There's a lot that gets put into the whole week. It's a very, very valuable part of the season.
"We'll get between 30,000-40,000 people ... it gives the Aboriginal people something to really get behind. This is a race of people we're representing. And they do get behind it ... look at the crowds. I'm seriously dumbfounded that every year we have to face questions about it's appropriateness."
The Titans and Blues hardman said the deplorable treatment of Adam Goodes by certain sections of the AFL community last season should virtually end the debate about the value of the All Stars game, which focuses on promoting and educating people about Indigenous culture.
"It's an education thing, for everybody involved, on how people should be treated, equality. The Goodes saga in Sydney last year was a debacle.," Bird said.
"This concept, seeing the best Indigenous kids and men represent their people proudly, is something all Australians should recognise and be proud of, wherever they come from."
Bird admitted it was a draining fortnight, with the game hot on the heels of the Auckland Nines, a tournament in which he played and enjoyed.
He said he wished the NRL hierarchy would look less at the All Stars match and more at the 26-round regular season, which continues to be disrupted by Origin breaks. Senior players regularly call for fewer games and Bird has added his name to that list.
"I think the season should be shorter. Look at other codes, the NFL for example, they have 16 rounds. I think it would put more emphasis on every match.
"Every match would have a massive amount of importance, there's no matches where teams are massively understrength for the Origin period. I think that's ideal but you have to look at TV rights and everything like that."