Footy legend Tony Kemp has labelled the Indigenous All-Stars match as a ‘reserve-grade game’ as a wave of players pull out of the contest.
The former Knights star and Warriors coach is now one of New Zealand’s top commentators, and the 55-year-old has taken aim at the NRL for the protracted Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions.
Kemp is skeptical about some of the reasons given for withdrawing from the game, and is of the belief the continuing (and at times, bitter) negotiations are a huge reason for both teams being without huge swathes of their best players.
The Kiwi Test legend loves the concept of the game, but is ‘saddened’ by the state of the 2023 edition, which will take place in Rotorua at 3.45pm (AEST) on Saturday.
Indigenous players before a war-cry prior to the 2020 All-Stars clash. The side has been decimated by withdrawals prior to this Saturday’s game, but will still have a number of talented players available
Maori dancers perform a traditional war-cry and dance at the 2020 All-Stars game. This year the game is heading to New Zealand, though footy legend Tony Kemp has bemoaned that the country will not get the two greatest line-ups given mass withdrawals
‘I don’t think that it’s (Indigenous All-Stars game) legitimate,’ Kemp told SENZ Breakfast.
‘It’s really sad … you finally get this game to New Zealand, so they go, ‘Right, because of what the Warriors have done over the last three years we’re going to bring a game to New Zealand. We’re going to bring the All Stars game (to NZ)’.
‘(It’s) a great concept, they’ve got that right … and they’re going to bring it to New Zealand and then they don’t go in and sort the CBA out,’ said Kemp.
Both sides have taken some brutal hits on availability, for a variety of reasons.
The Maoris will be without Roosters stars Joseph Manu and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, after the club ruled both out with a facial fracture and a back/hamstring ‘flare-up’ respectively.
Adam Blair puts every ounce of passion he has into the Maori team’s haka prior to the 2020 All-Stars game
Top-line players Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Daejarn Asi and Starford Toa are all unavailable, while, bizarrely, Nelson Asofa-Solomona will miss the game due to a dog bite that required surgery and stitches.
‘It was an honour to again be selected to wear the Maori jersey but unfortunately I’m not physically in the position to be able to play in such an intensive match so soon in my pre-season preparations,’ the Storm enforcer said in a statement released on Sunday.
The Indigenous side has not been immune, either.
Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell also cost themselves a place after being arrested outside a Canberra nightclub at 3.45am – when all good things happen to multi-million dollar athletes.
Latrell Mitchell leads the Indigenous side’s war-cry prior to the 2021 match. Mitchell was in doubt after a 3.45am scuffle outside a Canberra night club but has flown to New Zealand to play in the match
Josh Addo-Carr, pictured imitating Indigenous AFL icon Nicky Winmar’s famous skin pointing photo, has withdrawn from this year’s All-Stars encounter to ‘get his mind and body right’
Superstar flyer Josh Addo-Carr WILL miss, however, after vaguely referring to ‘needing to get his mind and body right’ as to why he needed to pull out of the game.
‘I sat down with the (Bulldogs) coaches and they went through some stuff that I needed to get right and that’s all it was. It was a disappointing decision but at the same time I thought about the team before myself,’ the winger said.
‘I’m not as fit as I should be and I’m just trying to get everything right. I’m shattered but it’s just one of those things.’
Ezra Mam, Chris Smith and Will Smith have been others to pull out of the Indigenous squad.
Kemp said he certainly wasn’t blaming the players in this instance, believing clubs are putting pressure on players with the NRL season less than a month away.
He took a brutal swipe at all the factors at play, saying the fixture was now a ‘reserve-grade match’, instead of the prized representative game it should be.
New Zealand footy legend Tony Kemp has been scathing of the lengthy withdrawal list for the All-Stars game, and admits he is ‘sad’ the country won’t get to experience the two best line-ups being out there
‘I don’t think it’s just because players don’t want to come here,’ Kemp said.
‘I think that clubs are saying, ‘Well you’re not coming here because there’s insurance problems, there’s CBA issues, we’re not going to risk you, we need you for the start of the season, you haven’t been training since after Christmas and you’re not ready to go out there and play’.
‘The sad thing about that is we’ve got this wonderful game and we’re not going to have the best players to look at.
‘We’re not going to have the best Indigenous stars and we already know that we’ve got close to 10 of our first choice Māori boys not playing, so now it’s becoming a bit of a reserve grade match,’ fumed Kemp, who remains a huge fan of the concept.
Panthers icon Scott Sattler agreed with Kemp on the impact the CBA negotiations – or lack thereof – are having on the availability for the game.
The Maori side perform a stirring haka before the 2021 All-Stars game in Townsville
The premiership hero even just days ago was still concerned the match wouldn’t even go ahead, such was his fear over the stalled talks, which have included threats of a player strike.
‘I’d be surprised if the All Stars game goes ahead to be honest,’ Sattler told SEN.
‘The NRL have probably sat on their hands for too long on this and didn’t think that the players were that strong.
‘V’landys and Abdo didn’t think that (RLPA CEO) Clint Newton had the support that they thought he would (but) the support is gathering a lot more strength,’ said Sattler.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has been under-fire from the playing group over the protracted CBA negotiations
Knights forward Adam Elliott has been one of the most vocal critics of the NRL over CBA negotiations alongside partner and premiership skipper Millie Boyle.
The second-rower warned that if there wasn’t progress soon, action would be taken by the players.
‘If we don’t get the results in the next sort of 24-48 hours in the boardroom between our president, Clint Newton, Andrew Abdo and Peter V’Landys then we’re going to be speaking about different action that we’re going to take,’ he said on Newcastle radio station 106.9.
‘If it gets to the point where we’ve to do something extreme, I’m really confident that all the players are going to buy into it and be working together for that common goal.’
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