Canberra Raiders enforcer David Shillington has implored the NRL to retain the All Stars concept and resist the urge to scrap it to accommodate a rich Super Nines tournament in New Zealand.
A Kiwi promoter has offered a A$2.2 million purse for NRL clubs to compete in a pre-season tournament in Auckland, with the proposal set to be endorsed at an NRL CEOs meeting later this month.
NRL All Stars representative Shillington conceded that type of money would be difficult to refuse, but insisted the concepts could co-exist.
''Obviously I'd be disappointed if the All Stars finished up, because I don't have a bad thing to say about it,'' he said.
''There's the youth summits and dealing with the indigenous kids, all the awareness and culture and bringing everyone together as people, it would be a real shame to let it go.
''That nines tournament sounds like it has merit, the prizemoney would be good for clubs and players and that type of product would be entertaining for the fans.
''We may have to cater for it and I wouldn't say no to it, but on the same page it would be hard to let the All Stars game go as well.''
Shillington admitted it would be ''weird'' when he lined up against an Indigenous All Stars side stacked with Raiders teammates at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. Colleagues Blake Ferguson, Jack Wighton, Jake Foster, Joel Thompson and Reece Robinson will be enemies for the night when they square off against the prop. ''I think they're going to get so much benefit out of it,'' he said. ''It's a shame we've got so many out of the Melbourne trial [played at Geelong on Friday night], but they're going to get big-game experience.
''Us forwards spoke at training about doing a good job in the middle and taking a bit of sting out of their back line which is full of great players.''
The NRL All Stars' preparations have been hampered by a host of withdrawals, with Paul Gallen, Anthony Watmough, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk pulling out through injury.
Manly were criticised for naming Watmough to play in a trial against Cronulla on Friday night, while the Storm were also considering giving Slater a run against Canberra. But Shillington doesn't feel it's a slap in the face to the All Stars concept. ''At first glance it looks like something funny's going on, but if you read more into it and accept their explanation it's pretty simple,'' he said.
''The All Stars game is pretty high intensity, and it's in front of a huge crowd on TV. It's a totally different type of game to playing a mixed reserve grade-first grade trial for 20 minutes. The guys coming back from pre-season surgery don't want to risk themselves in the game, and you can totally understand that.''
- Canberra Times