NRL 2020: Skin in the game


“I do (hope he sees it), I really do. I thought about that picture during the week. I thought it might make a few people angry, but I’m proud of it. There’s a great story behind it, I’m really proud that I did it. Maybe it would make people uncomfortable.

“I just want to make my people proud, they are driving me to be the best I can. We just want to be included, we want to be one with all Australians. We just want to be happy.”

The night was already supercharged with emotion before Addo-Carr upped the ante. Both squads had taken deep dives into their culture all week and it meant an immense amount for the players on both sides of the Tasman.

The lead-up to the match, won by the Maori side 30-16, had been intense and moving. For the Indigenous All Stars, the storylines had partly revolved around Latrell Mitchell’s rise as a leader and revelations he had suffered racism on the field since he was eight years of age.

His stance on racist social media trolls has inspired a new voice among Indigenous players and emboldened players like Addo-Carr, who was just a boy when Winmar was making his stand, but understands the enduring signifcance of the occasion.

There was a game to play and in a football sense, the passion translated into a spirited and physical contest that saw Mitchell debut at fullback and the introduction of the captain’s challenge, which was trialled on Saturday night. It will also be used in next weekend’s Charity Shield.

Winmar makes a stand in 1993.Credit:Wayne Ludbey

Media was briefed on the rule beforehand, which allows one challenge per team that must be made within 10 seconds of a ruling. It can be invoked only at a stoppage in play, like a try or penalty, not in passages of general play that don’t require a ruling from officials

It seemed to get a lukewarm reception from both sides. Maori captain Adam Blair was the first to try his hand when he challenged a knock-on ruled against Kenny Bromwich in the 65th minute.

It was overturned and his challenge was burned for the night. He later said he just used it because time was running out and he may as well chance his arm.

Indigenous All Stars captain Joel Thompson tried to use one, but the referee couldn’t hear him. When he did cut through the noise, he was reminded that it can only be used during a stoppage anyway. Indigenous coach Laurie Daley said he forgot the option was even there until Blair rolled the dice.

There was a long injury list from the night, with Bulldogs forward Chris Smith the most serious after suffering an ACL that will rule him out for the season. Tyrone Roberts (ankle), Josh Kerr (MCL), Wade Graham (ankle) and Dallen Watene-Zelezniak (back hematoma) were other notable casualties.

Brandon Smith of the Maori Kiwis breaks away.

Brandon Smith of the Maori Kiwis breaks away.Credit:

The Maori side took a 12-10 lead into half-time, with tries to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (fourth minute) and Kodi Nikorima (27), while Josh Curran (17) and Blake Ferguson (39) put the Indigenous All Stars within striking distance.

Mitchell, meanwhile, was warming to the task at fullback, growing in confidence as the game progressed and making a try-saving tackle just off his own line on Brandon Smith, who had worked up a full head of steam and had just one man to beat.

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He would be used in the centres in the latter stages, with Alex Johnston at fullback, with Laurie Daley making full use of the unlimited interchange to rotate his players throughout the contest.

Broncos back-rower David Fifita had a breakout game in this fixture last year and would break the game open again, carving his way through towards the end of the third quarter to gallop 50m and set up James Roberts for a 16-12 lead.

But Smith would not be silenced for the Maoris. He burst through to score next to the posts with 10 minutes to play, proudly grabbing his jumper as part of the celebration, as his team edged two points clear.

After being denied by a double movement soon after, Smith could not be stopped from the run-around, stretching out and sealing the contest for New Zealand Maori.

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