Rival All Stars captains Benji Marshall and Johnathan Thurston faced each other for the first time today, as both sides gathered on the Gold Coast to battle it out for the Arthur Beetson Trophy in the third annual Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars clash at Skilled Park on Saturday.
And while there is plenty at stake on the field, there is also a shared commitment that this is a game with a much deeper community meaning, with the $3 million in funding gained from the 2010 and 2011 matches helping to fund club community programs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Queensland Premier, the Hon. Anna Bligh MP, NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, and All Stars coaches Laurie Daley and Wayne Bennett, joined Marshall and Thurston to launch the match from SkyPoint on Level 77 of the Q1 Building at Surfers Paradise ahead of celebrations throughout this week that will culminate in the 2012 All Stars game at 7:00pm AEST (QLD time) on Saturday.
“This isn’t just about the game; it’s about community,” said NRL All Stars captain Benji Marshall.
“It’s about the Indigenous people and what they get out of it. It’s good to be able to do something that means so much to the community and the children. That’s why we do it.
“What Preston Campbell did to get this whole concept off the ground is quite an achievement. “
Learn Earn Legend! Indigenous All Stars captain Johnathan Thurston agreed that the significance of the All Stars went beyond a game and was a special experience.
“There is no doubt this game has a very different feel to it than other matches and I think that the pride we all feel when stepping out onto the field is unlike anything I have experienced,” Thurston said.
“As an Indigenous player you know the crowd is packed with your people, who are all there to see a world class match and to watch a team that represents who they are. It is pretty special to be a part of it.
“This year the event takes on even more significance as we play for the Arthur Beetson Trophy in honour of a man who holds a special place for everyone who loves Rugby League.”
Leading into the match the Gold Coast will play host to a week of All Stars celebrations and activities in the community including the Learn Earn Legend! All Stars Indigenous Youth Summit, a Jobs Expo, the All Stars Festival, NACCHO Deadly Choices Interstate Challenge - displaying Indigenous participation in Rugby League, women’s and Under 16 All Stars matches and many community player visits.
The match also sets the platform to launch the 2012 Telstra Premiership season in spectacular style, with game one just over four weeks away on March 1 between NRL All Stars coach Wayne Bennett’s new Newcastle club and his former team, the Dragons.
“The Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars is more than a game, and now, heading into our third year, it is very rewarding to look back and see some of the outcomes from the $3 million in funding gained from the 2010 and 2011 matches,” said NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop.
“In 2012 we hope the All Stars game can build on this contribution and continue to make a difference in the lives of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“It is great to see everyone involved in the All Stars recognises its importance to Rugby League and the community and really embraces the concept with passion, enthusiasm and pride.”
In addition to the hugely successful Learn Earn Legend! All Stars Indigenous student mentoring program, in partnership with the Federal Government, All Stars funding has gone towards such club initiatives as the 100% Knights Program, targeting senior students and their families with education, mentoring and leadership training; the Souths Cares Active Lifestyles program; and Wests Tigers’ new Academy of Learning at Leumeah providing education programs aimed at closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Funding from the 2012 match will go to further supporting programs already in place, as well as new initiatives including literacy programs with the Parramatta Eels, Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the Brisbane Broncos’ “Keep Safe Program” aiming to raise awareness of sexual assault against children.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh welcomed the NRL All Stars and the Indigenous All Stars to the Gold Coast for the February 4 match.
The Premier said the annual match was a tribute to the achievements of Indigenous Queenslanders both on and off the field.
“It’s great to see the boys getting together to celebrate their heritage and their community,” Ms Bligh said.
“The Queensland Government, through Events Queensland, is proud to continue our support for the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars in 2012.
“In 2011 this exciting exhibition match attracted a sell-out crowd of 26,000 to Skilled Park – giving a major boost to the Gold Coast economy, local businesses and jobs.
“And with more than one million viewers across Australia tuning in to watch from home last year, it is events like this that showcase the Gold Coast region to a national audience.
“Attracting major events like this one is part of our plan to continue building Queensland’s bright future.”