Rugby League

Cameron Smith stars as World team holds out Indigenous All Star charge

For all of the inherent unpredictability of rugby league's All Star game, it would end as so many others have at Suncorp Stadium; a team winning on the back of a rugby league clinic from Cameron Smith.

The World All Stars captain marshalled his players with his regular vigour and discipline to help them hold out a spirited Indigenous All Stars side, eventually winning 12-8 in front of almost 38,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium.

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World All Stars upset Indigenous All Stars

The World All Stars have upset the Indigenous All Stars for the first time since 2012 with a bruising 12-8 victory at Suncorp Stadium that also saw no serious injuries sustained by any player.

Forget debates about the viability of the concept. The crowd told the story and John Grant, the ARL chairman, virtually guaranteed its future during the week, telling players behind closed doors that only the timing and exact format was up for debate.

In any case, this game always delivers, as much on the field as off during an emotional and educational week for its participants. Entertaining? Of course. But the fact that the result matters for the players makes it even better. This is proper footy in February.

Collision: Tom Burgess runs into a wall of Indigenous All Stars defenders.
Collision: Tom Burgess runs into a wall of Indigenous All Stars defenders.  Photo: Getty Images

At one point, Smith elected to take a penalty. In an All Stars game. It proved a sage call, made as coach Wayne Bennett deployed him at hooker, halfback and five-eighth at various stages.

People think points when they think All Stars but despite the perfect conditions and the unlimited interchange, the first quarter moved by without the scoreboard being disturbed, not that the contest wasn't without its moments of intrigue.


The 2016 officiating additions to the game were quickly on show. It would fall to Michael Ennis to be the first man to be pinged for failing to play-the-ball correctly, just days after he pondered out loud whether that crackdown would make much of a difference. Beautiful synergy.

Of far more interest was the performance of the refereeing bunker. This would be the first weekend it had been actively employed and arrived with a promise to cut errors, increase consistency and decrease the time taken to finalise a call.

Too late: Dane Gagai scored the final try of the match to set up a tense finish, but it wasn't enough.
Too late: Dane Gagai scored the final try of the match to set up a tense finish, but it wasn't enough.  Photo: Getty Images

A benchmark of 40 seconds had been mentioned but the first pair of decisions took far longer to arrive at the ground.

Kane Evans was judged to have failed to score in the 18th minute after one minute and 14 seconds of deliberation while the first try, to World All Star Konrad Hurrell after 32 minutes, took one minute and 40 seconds to award.

The NRL said the delay was to allow fans to view the television replays, so the decision could well have been made far quicker in the command centre in Sydney.

From round one, fans will see the bunker camera footage, rather than network replays, and hear the referees as they arrive at a ruling, with the aim of providing a more real-time experience.

The shot clocks worked seamlessly and helped keep the game flowing. There is little doubt the reduced time for scrums and drop-outs will test players deep into high-tempo NRL contests.

When the All Stars game was first conceived, the pre-game was considered a canvas for expressions of indigenous pride, music and culture and of course, a dash of welcome theatre ahead of the main event.

Now it has come so far that it could soon be considered a workable template for not just the national rugby league team but any other elite side representing Australia.

Like sporting rivals New Zealand and South Africa, the national anthem was sung in a native language before Jessica Mauboy rounded it out in familiar English. Few could argue the merits of such a move on a broader scale.

And the War Dance, devised in camp over the years by the indigenous players, is nothing short of spine-tingling. Talk of it being adopted by the Kangaroos should be taken seriously by leading players and administrators.

To see Inglis stare menacingly from within a circle of teammates, before advancing ahead of his team, was an awe-inspiring spectacle. It wasn't hard to imagine the Australians using it as a retort to the famous Kiwi haka before a Test match.