Māori All Stars side to face their Indigenous counterparts to kick off 2019 NRL season

The 2019 NRL season will kick off with a New Zealand Māori All Stars taking on an Australian Indigenous All-Stars in a men’s and women’s double-header in Melbourne.

The NRL’s head of football Brian Canavan said the new concept, which will make its debut on February 15, had received strong support from fans and players.

“The All-Stars concept has been popular with crowds across the country and abroad since it first commenced back in 2010,” said Canavan.

“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.”

The concept will allow Māori players to play for the All Stars even their national allegiance is not to New Zealand, allowing the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Corey Norman, Valentine Holmes, Jordan McLean and James Tamou to turn out for the Māori All Stars, despite favouring Australia at a national level. 

Greg Inglis and Kalyn Ponga could face off in the historic fixture. Source: Getty

'He's human like everyone else' - Sharks skipper skipper rallies behind Josh Dugan after emotional break down

Cronulla captain Paul Gallen insists its imperative the playing group rally around teammate Josh Dugan following his emotional outburst at media negativity in the game.

Dugan battled tears as he opened up on his struggles on the battering his reputation has taken since being sacked by Canberra in 2013.

Gallen admits Dugan has this year been heavily burdened not only by an injury- riddled first season at the Sharks, but also by the off-field pressures.

"He's always got a bit going on. He does stress about things. He does stress about the way he's treated by certain parts of the media, how public perceive him at times," Gallen said.

"You probably saw in that interview, he's human like everyone else and sometimes emotions can get the better of you and wear you down.

"And I think that's what's happened to him throughout this year."

Dugan's comments come on the eve of the Sharks' semi-final against Penrith, where a loss would knock them out of the race for a second premiership in three years.

Paul Gallen of the Sharks. Source: Photosport

Gallen, who was at pains to point out the hours of community work the club does during the year, said the priority is to look after Dugan's wellbeing.

"I know how much Duges does for other people," Gallen said.

"He doesn't go looking for the limelight. He doesn't have a camera behind his back when he sees a kid in hospital.

"Other people don't understand that. When he gets bagged, he finds it hard to take because he knows how much he does.

"At the end of the day, we've just got to get him right mentally over the next couple of days and he's got to go out there and play his game on the field."

Sydney Roosters veteran Cooper Cronk weighed in on the saga, saying players handle criticism differently to others but need to access available support networks during tough times.

"Part of the exposure is the fact that players get paid handsomely for what we do," he said.

"If you want to complain or get upset about the exposure, then I think you probably hand back half your pay cheque because without that you don't get it.

"On the other side, everyone has a right to an opinion, but the individual determines whether they cross the line or not.

"Have people crossed the line? Rightly so. Have players done the wrong thing and deserved it, rightly so. At the end of the day we're all here to try make the NRL as best as it possibly can."

Dugan says despite the positive things he's done for the community he'll always be portrayed negatively. Source: FOX Sports Australia


Roosters star Latrell Mitchell faces one-match NRL ban after crusher tackle

Sydney Roosters' Mr Fix It Mitchell Aubusson is ready to try to fill the big boots of Latrell Mitchell after the NSW State of Origin star was suspended for one game at the NRL judiciary.

Mitchell was found guilty of dangerous contact following a marathon 100-minute hearing last night, that took just as long as the Rugby League Players' Association did to review the entire season at their awards night down the road.

The Roosters centre will now miss the tri-colours' preliminary final against either St George Illawarra or South Sydney on Saturday week, before being able to return for the grand final if his team wins through.

And Roosters veteran Aubusson - who has played as a utility for the best part of his 12-year NRL career - said he was ready to step up at left centre when it mattered most.

"It's something I pride my career on, the shortest time I have had to prepare for a game is probably two hours, with Robbo (coach Trent Robinson) saying I had a position change for that game," Aubusson said.

"I'm really confident stepping in. I'll work hard. We've got two weeks to prepare for it and I'll take on a bit if I need.

"It's something that probably kept me in this team for a long time. It's something I really look forward to - the opportunity to play in different positions and to excel and hopefully do really well in that position."

Regardless, Mitchell's absence will come as a massive blow to a Roosters side already missing Queensland State of Origin prop Dylan Napa to suspension.

Mitchell has scored 16 tries, made 18 linebreaks and busted through 101 tackles to go with a breakthrough Origin series for the Blues.

"He is going to be a massive loss for us but if that's the case we have to go on with it," Aubusson said.

"It's a preliminary final so we have to aim up."

Mitchell was found guilty of dangerous contact on Josh Dugan in Saturday's elimination final win, but it was carryover points and weighting that cruelled the centre.

A cannonball tackle from the previous week meant he would be suspended for a game unless he could beat the charge, even with an early guilty plea.

However he failed to convince the judiciary panel he'd given Dugan's head enough space as he fell in the tackle, and did not speak to the media as he left the hearing.

Latrell Mitchell. Vodafone Warriors v Sydney Roosters, NRL Rugby League round 10, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. 12 May 2018. Copyright Image: Renee McKay / www.photosport.nz
Sydney Roosters star Latrell Mitchell in action against the Warriors. Source: Photosport



Knights star Kalyn Ponga to undergo surgery, still a chance to make Kangaroos

Newcastle star Kalyn Ponga is set to undergo surgery on his troublesome ankle tomorrow but could recover in time to be picked for the Kangaroos' trip to New Zealand.

Ponga is a chance of being part of the Australian squad to face Tonga and the Kiwis next month following an eye-catching maiden season at the Knights.

The 20-year-old's year was so impressive that he was crowned Players' Champion at the players' union awards on Tuesday night, adding to the Knights' top gong he won last week.

"The last week has been a bit like my season - a bit of a blur," Ponga told AAP.

"It's huge to get recognised by your peers because they're the ones that you train all pre-season to play against. Like Johnathan Thurston said, it's the highest accolade you can get."

The Knights fullback was hampered by an ankle injury over the final month of the regular season.

And while he will be out of action for two weeks - ruling him out of a potential spot in the Prime Minister's XIII's annual trip to Papua New Guinea - he could be back in time for the Kangaroos.

NSW fullback James Tedesco is likely to fill the No.1 jersey left vacant by Billy Slater, however Tom Trbojevic and Valentine Holmes are also likely to be taken across the Tasman.

Ponga, who made a memorable debut in State of Origin this year, isn't holding his breath.

"The ankle's alright at the moment. I'll get surgery on it in a couple of days and be sweet for next year. I won't be out for too long. I'll be back before pre-season starts," he said.

"I'm not really looking at Kangaroos. There are obviously a few players ahead of me anyway, but it definitely gives me something to strive for."

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03:  Kalyn Ponga of the Knights in the warm up during the round 21 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on August 3, 2018 in Newcastle, Australia.  (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Kalyn Ponga of the Knights in the warm up during the round 21 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium. Source: Getty


NSW players given 144-page books to remember historic State of Origin series win

It was a State of Origin series win to remember for NSW and Blues players have a coffee table book to make sure they never forget it.

They were handed a 144-page book at Monday night's Brad Fittler Medal to document their journey from a batch of rookies to series champions.

With coach Fittler telling the team not to bother buying into any media hype because they'd get a chance to read it back later, staff collected articles from newspapers about the series from the first day of camp to Game III.

Every day of camp is documented chronologically in the display book, which also includes galleries of team training and inspirational quotes from Fittler.

"I never looked into much media and read too many articles about it," Blues player of the series James Tedesco said.

"So to look back and see us at training and winning the series, it's something I will cherish for the rest of my life."

Printed with each player's NSW number and given only to them and football staff members, the book is the last of Fittler's initiatives for 2018.

Blues players were rushed back into their NRL teams after the series victory in July but the books gave them and staff the chance to reflect on the six weeks on Monday night.

"Honestly, it was such a privilege to be involved in this Origin series," adviser Greg Alexander told guests at Monday's awards night.

"Looking at the photos in the books, two things stick out to me: the last 15 minutes in Origin II where we won the series and the first half in Origin III where it was a rugby league miracle we were in front at halftime.

"I'd forgotten what it was like to commit yourself to something as emotionally and physically as our players did."

James Maloney in possession during the Ho State of Origin, Game 2. New South Wales Blues v Queensland Maroons , ANZ Stadium,  Sydney, Australia. 24th June 2018. Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz
James Maloney in action for the NSW Blues during Game II of the 2018 State of Origin against the Queensland Maroons. Source: Photosport