All Stars shine light on our people, says Soward

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 12: Jamie Soward of the Indigenous All Stars looks to pass during the match between the Indigenous All Stars and the NRL All Stars at Skilled Park on February 12, 2011 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
True colours ... Jamie Soward in action for the Indigenous All Stars. Bradley Kanaris

Indigenous All Stars original Jamie Soward says rugby league will not lose the annual pre-season clash which has meant so much to his people.

The Penrith playmaker, back in the indigenous side to play the World All Stars at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night after a four-year absence, disagreed with suggestions the concept was on its last legs by declaring it was "here to stay".

Soward said he and other indigenous players attended a function this week at which NRL Commission chairman John Grant expressed confidence the All Stars agreement with the Queensland Government would be renewed, despite the doomsayers.

It has been reported the NRL lost $500,000 on last year's game which was played on the Gold Coast.

The reality is that if the predicted 40,000 fans turn up to Suncorp Stadium, that would be a bigger crowd than a Test match involving the Kangaroos would pull in Sydney.

On top of that, the work the indigenous players do behind the scenes with troubled youth, some battling serious lifestyle issues and hardships, cannot be measured in dollars.

"It was exciting when I played in the first All Stars game (2010), but as you get older you start to understand the true meaning and how important this game is, not just to the fans or the indigenous players, but to our people," Soward said.

"It's about recognition for the indigenous people who were here in the beginning.

"Today we attended a youth summit with indigenous kids from all over New South Wales and Queensland, and also a few who have come over from New Zealand.

"Just to listen to their stories, their dreams and be able to help them and talk to them and be a mentor rather than just a footy player is something pretty humbling.

"It's something because I am older I understand a little bit more."

The emergence of the Auckland Nines, which offers serious clubs serious prize money, and also the World Club Challenge in the UK, has forced the game's stars to choose which events they will play in the lead-up to the season proper.

But despite that, Soward declared the All Stars game would not lose its place.

"The Nines is a great concept, but it's not really rugby league," he said.

"The Indigenous All Stars game really kicks off the NRL season and I'd be very disappointed, along with a lot of other people, if the NRL changed that."