A committed and passionate display by the Indigenous All Stars has seen them come from behind to defeat the NRL All Stars 20-6 in Friday night’s Harvey Norman All Stars clash at Cbus Super Stadium.
Trailing 6-0 at half-time, the Indigenous All Stars – led by the ever present danger of Greg Inglis – piled on three unanswered tries in the second half to notch their third victory since the All Stars concept was introduced in 2010.
Inglis was able to spark his side into life with a stunning try in the 51st minute, before late tries to Will Chambers and Chris Grevsmuhl sealed the result for the Indigenous side.
In a contrast of size verses speed, the contest between the formidable forward pack of the NRL All Stars and the electrifying backline of the Indigenous All Stars provided plenty of entertainment for the healthy crowd of 23,177.
Written off for having a lightweight forward pack compared to the star-studded pack of their opposition, emotional Indigenous All Stars skipper Johnathan Thurston was full of praise for his whole side, particularly their forward pack, after the win.
"I can't give our middle third enough credit – you look at their forward pack – you [the media] were questioning us whether the game would be played with any intensity and I think what you saw out there for a game in February it was first class," Thurston said.
"We got asked plenty of questions during the week about being skinny through the forwards. We knew that and put some centres in the back-row to push the boys through, but I can't give our guy a big enough wrap through that middle third.
"They understand what it means to play in this game and pull on this jersey and that's what we've been driving all week."
Prior to kick-off, the NRL All Stars were greeted by a passionate rendition of the Indigenous All Stars War Cry which was led by chief backline antagonist Inglis and eventual Man of the Match George Rose.
Once the pre-match traditions came to an end, the Indigenous All Stars were the first side to click into gear and were unlucky not to cross for the opening try two minutes in after Justin Hodges scooped up an Alex Johnston toe poke but fumbled the ball agonisingly close to the line under heavy attention from Jarrod Croker.
Laurie Daley’s men continued to push their more fancied opponents in the early exchanges, defying predictions that they would succumb to a bigger All Stars side in the middle of the park, and with barely five minutes gone on the clock NRL All Stars lock Paul Gallen found himself placed on report due to forceful contact with the elbow on Indigenous back-rower Kyle Turner.
The remainder of the first quarter failed to reach any dizzying heights with both sides combining for a total of seven errors and 10 penalties, stalling much of the momentum garnered by the forwards in the middle third of Cbus Super Stadium.
The second-quarter script began in similar fashion to the opening stanza with a penalty awarded in the first set.
The focus on the penalty count soon subsided as both sides threw caution to the wind and spread the ball to all parts of the ground.
However, it was the boot of Mitchell Pearce that made the more telling inroad into the Indigenous All Stars defence, with the Roosters pivot taking advantage of the new 40/20 rule currently being trialled by placing the NRL All Stars in prime attacking territory which would eventually led to the opening try.
Receiving the ball on the fourth tackle, Pearce directed play towards the right edge finding fullback Matt Moylan, who then dished a pass off to an unmarked Dylan Walker to hand the NRL All Stars a 6-0 lead in the 31st minute after Nathan Friend added the extras.
The Indigenous All Stars had a late attacking flurry inside the final 90 seconds of the first half, but despite some nervy moments, the NRL All Stars defensive line held strong to keep the score at 6-0 heading into half-time.
The NRL All Stars came close extending their lead midway through the third quarter when Antonio Winterstein made an acrobatic lunge over the corner post only for the touch judge to raise his flag due to the Cowboys winger planting his right foot on the chalk.
Only moments later the Indigenous side were able to level the contest after some scrappy lead-up play resulted in Tyrone Roberts putting up a hopeful cross-field bomb in the direction of the uprights.
Having started the third quarter on the bench, crowd favourite Greg Inglis had been on the bench seconds earlier and came from nowhere to pluck the Steeden out of the air and score next to the posts – celebrating his four-pointer with his now trademark goanna crawl.
Indigenous All Stars skipper Johnathan Thurston made no mistake with the conversion, locking the scoreboard up at 6-6 in the 52nd minute with either side failing to add any further points before the three-quarter time break.
In almost a carbon copy of the opening stages of the third quarter, Winterstein was yet again unleashed down the right touchline only to put a foot into touch just short of the line.
Once again the Indigenous side turned it into a quick turnaround as they made easy metres downfield which would eventually led to their second try. Running the ball close to the line, Thurston delivered a perfectly timed cut-out pass to Will Chambers who cruised through a yawning gap to hand the crowd favourites the lead for the first time in the match.
With six minutes left on the clock the Indigenous All Stars received a penalty 38 metres out directly in front allowing Thurston to coolly add a further two points to take his side out to a 14-6 lead.
Two minutes out from fulltime an in-goal fumble by Jason Taumalolo allowed Chris Grevsmuhl to scoop up the crumbs and seal the result for the Indigenous All Stars with Thurston’s conversion taking the score out to 20-6.
The NRL All Stars attempted a short kick-off from the restart which almost backfired after Justin Hodges raced away into open space, finding Dane Gagai on his outside who crossed out wide.
The possible try was referred to the video referees who declined to award what would have been a breathtaking four-pointer, with Gagai deemed to have lost control in the grounding. It mattered little though as the Indigenous side held out their NRL counterparts to run out 20-6 winners.
Indigenous All Stars 20 (Greg Inglis, Will Chambers, Chris Grevsmuhl tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals) def. NRL All Stars 6 (Dylan Walker try; Nathan Friend goal) at Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast. Crowd: 23,177. Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referees: Gavin Reynolds & Grant Atkins.
Quarter-time: 0-0. Half-time: NRL All Stars 6-0. Three-quarter time: 6-6.
Man of the match: George Rose (Indigenous All Stars).