Brandon Smith stamped himself as a player to watch in 2020 with a stunning two-try performance to lead the New Zealand Maori to a stunning 30-16 come-from-behind victory over the Indigenous All Stars on the Gold Coast.
The Kiwi Test hooker, who plays understudy to 400-game legend Cameron Smith at the Melbourne Storm, showed his time in the shadows is clearly over with a spirited effort to snatch at Cbus Super Stadium.
Smith used his power and speed to barge through a tired Indigenous defensive line in the 70th minute, with Kalyn Ponga’s successful conversion putting the Maori ahead after they fell behind 16-12 just before three-quarter time.
Smith almost sealed the game three minutes later with another strong surge, but was denied by the bunker for a double movement.
But there was no doubting his match sealer in the 75th minute when the diminutive ball-runner burrowed between defenders to again score next to the uprights.
On a night when all eyes were on Indigenous fullback Latrell Mitchell it was Smith who stole the show as the Maori scored three tries in the final 10 minutes to run out comprehensive victors.
Smith would’ve had a hat-trick if not for Mitchell’s brilliant defence in the 56th minute.
Smith busted through the middle of the defensive line from 20 metres out and with only Mitchell to beat he tried to muscle his way past the towering fullback only to be brought down five metres short of the tryline.
Smith finished the game with 175 metres from 13 runs, five tackle breaks and four line breaks in what will be a difficult performance to top for a hooker in 2020.
Mitchell’s frustrations got the better of him with four minutes remaining when he dumped opposing fullback Ponga on the ground after the kick-off.
Not to be outdone by Smith, Indigenous lock David Fifita produced his own All Stars power moment that looked to put his team within reach of victory.
The Brisbane forward used last year’s All Star clash in Melbourne to announce his arrival on the big stage and in 2020 he repeated the effort coming up with what seemed to be the game-breaking play.
Fifita busted through two defenders on his own 20-metre line to sprint clear and then draw Ponga for flying centre James Roberts to sprint the final 40 metres to give the Indigenous team a 16-12 lead for the first time in the game.
Fifita finished with 142 metres from 12 runs and his tackle-breaking ability made him a real handful for the Maori.
While there were no headline attacking moments for Mitchell in his 67 minutes of action, there were enough glimpses of something to suggest he will be a handful in the Souths No.1 jersey in 2020.
His trademark strong fend left defenders in his wake but it became obvious from just his first game at the back opposing teams will kick the ball away from him at every opportunity to avoid facing him with a full head of steam on the kick return.
He almost produced one of the more magical moments of the night on one of the few chances to return the ball in the 26th minute, with a deft behind-the-back flick pass that would’ve given Josh Addo-Carr a 70-metre sprint to the tryline if the Storm winger had not fumbled the offload.
Addo-Carr was in everything, opening the game with a poignant moment when he lifted his jersey and pointed at his bare chest during the war cry, evoking memories of AFL Indigenous legend Nicky Winmar’s iconic gesture at Victoria Park in 1993.
Adam Blair created his own piece of history by becoming the first player to use the captain’s challenge system, however his call on a Kenny Bromwich knock on in the 65th minute was ruled unsuccessful by the bunker.
Blair finished the game by converting Dylan Walker’s final minute try as the Maori enjoyed revenge over the Indigenous outfit from last year.
By Todd Balym – As seen on NRL.com
Indigenous All Stars winger Nakia Davis-Welsh turned in a blinder to inspire a 10-4 win over the Maori Ferns after a triumphant return to the team she debuted for as a 16-year-old.
With the scores locked at 4-all in the final quarter, captain Tallisha Harden leapt high to catch a mid-field bomb by halfback Jenni-Sue Hoepper.
Davis-Welsh showed great alertness to support and then put the afterburners on to leave the Maori defenders clutching at air to score the match-winner..
Earlier Davis-Welsh had set up the first try with a freakish offload and saved a crucial try with a crunching one-on-one tackle.
The Maori started on fire and soon posted the first try when powerhouse centre Kerehitina Matua barged over early from a slick ball from half Sarina Fiso Clark.
An outstanding kicking game by Indigenous All Stars halfback Hoepper early helped her side get some repeat sets. The Maori defended with gusto and repelled several charges at their line and it took a piece of individual brilliance to crack them.
Davis-Welsh, from close range, beat five players before slipping a magic ball in traffic to dynamic centre Steph Mooka who scored wide out to level it up at 4-all at quarter time.
Indigenous five-eighth Simone Smith kicked and regathered twice to fire her side’s second quarter attack. Maori fullback Botille Vette-Welsh was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Indigenous centre Rhiannon Revell-Blair in the 20th minute as the Indigenous women made another raid.
The Maori were their own worst enemies with numerous handling errors but they scrambled well in defence with several last-ditch tackles saving the day.
A try saver by Davis-Welsh on her opposite number Kiana Katairangi was the big play of the third quarter as the teams went to the final change locked at 4-all.
Maori five-eighth Raecene McGregor had some nice touches throughout with her strategic kicking game always a threat.
Indigenous fullback Shakiah Tungai showed great bravery to defuse several kicks and the left the field early in the final quarter with a shoulder injury after being crunched by Maori prop Harata Butler.
It was left to Davis-Welsh, courtesy of a flying leap by her captain, to ice the cake for the Indigenous All Stars in a performance that showcased why she is one of the world’s most exciting outside backs in the women’s game.
Indigenous All Stars coach Ben Jeffries praised Davis-Welsh and said “I am pretty proud of her and show she has come back”.
“Obviously she’s had a pregnancy and given birth. [To play so well] is probably to be expected, because of her experience, but to do that on a big stage is very well played,” he said.
Indigenous All Stars captain Tallisha Harden said the flying winger was a real pro.
“Off the field she is real energetic and loves to have fun. On the field she is so cool calm and collected,” Harden said.
“Her family has come up and made the trip. I knew she was going to have a big game today.”
By Joel Gould – As seen on NRL.com
By Stuff.co.nz – Sam Phillips
It’s all about iwi for the New Zealand Māori All Stars.
Iwi, the Māori word for “people” or “nation”, identifies which tribe a New Zealand native is from and when the official team lists are printed in Friday’s match program, each player will have their iwi next to their surname.
That will mark a proud moment for each of the inaugural Māori All Stars and their families, according to hooker Brandon Smith.
“It’s definitely a proud moment, particularly for my mother’s side of the family,” Smith said in Melbourne.
“She’s a Māori and for her this is massive. Getting to see my iwi next to my name in the team lists – she was super excited.
“This game is for her.”
Many of Smith’s team-mates feel the same way.
While not all are well versed in the intricacies of their heritage, James Tamou pointed to each player’s family roots when asked what the game meant to those taking part.
“It’s what you grow up with as family,” Tamou said.
“That’s why all the Māori players are here, representing that.
“Even still to this day there are parts of my family that are pretty solid foundation, keeping strong within the Māori culture in our family.
Each Māori All Star was presented with a special greenstone upon arrival in camp on Sunday.
The gift will serve as a reminder of the culture the team is representing when they run onto AAMI Park on Friday night.
“It was a gift to take away on your journey so you always remember where you came from,” Tamou said.
“All these players have their own journey in life and they will always be part of the Maori heritage and Maori culture to go with it.
“Some boys will cherish it everywhere we go.”
The energy with which the Maori men have embraced the new All Stars concept leads one to believe the NRL may be onto a winner.
The fan vote, combined with the clash of two iconic cultures, leads Maori coach Stacey Jones to believe the concept would work in New Zealand as well.
“I’m sure it would [do well] anywhere in New Zealand,” he said.
“When you look at the calibre of players on both teams – there would be massive support.
“It’s very special.
“These guys playing in this game are giving back to the game, giving back to the Māori people.
“Hopefully some kids that will be watching will say one day I want to be in that team.”
Tamou echoed Jones’ sentiment.
“As soon as they announced it, I imagined the passion which was going to come out from both teams,” he said.
“It will be unreal. It will be a good showcase for the fans.
“This week we are getting a really good understanding about Māori and I’m sure the Indigenous team are doing the same over there.
“When it all comes together it will show how cultures collide and not only the excitement of football but how passionate the players can all be about it.”
Smith believes that passion would also translate to a potential Pacific Nations team.
Should Friday’s match prove a success, the Storm hooker suggested a Tri Nations type tournament should be looked at in the near future.
But first, Smith believes stamping this fixture as an annual event should be top priority.
“It showcases the two cultures and the ability that they have, so I think it’s a really good idea,” he said.
“The way the NRL is pushing it at the moment … hopefully it goes really well.
“What the Tongans have done for rugby league is really good for the Pacific Nations.
“Hopefully one day we could get a Pacific team as well in there – a tri series – something like that.”
Smith also likes the notion of taking the match to New Zealand but with Storm-Warriors games often drawing 50-50 crowds, he cheekily suggested it may feel like a home match on Friday anyway.
“I think we will have a lot of home support. When we played the Anzac test at AAMI Park there were a lot of Kiwis there,” he said.
“Melbourne has a lot of Kiwi fans, so hopefully they all turn up on the weekend.”
Two of the oldest cultures in the world will headline the start of the 2019 NRL season on Friday 15 February, when the Australian Indigenous All-Stars take on the New Zealand Maori Kiwis at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
The men’s and women’s NRL Harvey Norman All-Stars double-header were announced this morning in front of Indigenous and Maori representatives and players, including Josh-Addo Carr and Jesse Bromwich from the Storm, together with Nakia Davis-Welsh from the Roosters and Honey Hireme from the Dragons.
NRL Head of Football, Brian Canavan said the new concept had been canvassed amongst fans and players alike, with strong support for the matches across both fan bases.
“The All-Stars concept has been popular with crowds across the country and abroad since it first commenced back in 2010,” Mr Canavan said.
“In 2019, we’re taking the All-Stars to another level – paying homage to Australian and New Zealand First Nations cultures and celebrating the unique bond between both countries.”
Australian Rugby League Chair, the Honourable Linda Burney MP said the power and pride across all four teams would be on display come February next year.
“Some of the most exciting, energetic and engaging players emanate from both First Nations cultures,” Ms Burney said.
“What better way to celebrate the return of rugby league for another year than to kick off the season with a match that prides itself on being more than just a game; but an opportunity to educate and empower communities long after the full-time whistle.”
Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the Honourable John Eren MP said he was looking forward to watching the teams go head-to-head in what promises to be an enthralling contest and wonderful event.
“This is more than just a great sporting spectacle – it is a celebration of Indigenous culture both on and off the field,” Minister Eren said.