NRL Indigenous and Māori All Stars meet in Sydney for first time in a clash of two First Nations cultures

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The coming together of two First Nations cultures will again be on display for the world to see on Saturday as the commencement of rugby league’s 2022 calendar takes flight.

The Indigenous men’s and women’s All Stars host the Māori All Stars on Darug nation at Parramatta Stadium, in what will be their fourth meeting.

This year marks the first time Preston Campbell’s All Stars concept, which came to fruition in 2010, will be played in Sydney.

The matches themselves will undoubtedly be played in the same spirit as previous years – with a deep sense of pride and great respect among opponents.

Footy fans will also get to witness the innate and freakish talent of some of rugby league’s best First Nations athletes.

Although the back-to-back matches are the centrepiece of Saturday’s action, with the women’s match kicking off at 5:20pm (AEST), the game day proceedings will also see a range of cultural protocols, performances and art on display.

‘Around the fire, we realise that we’re all family’

As players, staff and thousands of fans begin to flood Parramatta Stadium from 4pm (AEST) when the gates open, they will be met with a smoking ceremony.

Smoking ceremonies have been performed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for thousands of years to cleanse both people and places of bad spirits or bad energy.

The fire acts as healing and the bringing together of people. It is important when we have smoking ceremonies to think about our elders, our past, present, who we are, where we come from and where we’re going.

It is also an acknowledgement as we pay our respects to the people whose land we’re meeting on.

Ngiyanppa Wiradjuri man Uncle Graham King, who will give the Welcome to Country before the match, says the smoking ceremonies remind us “where we get our power from”.

“The smoking ceremony before the games says, we’re all playing. We’re here together and playing as one,” Uncle Graham said.

“The other thing is that it focuses our intent on what we want to achieve … around the fire, we realise that we’re all family.”

The Māori teams gave their traditional welcome at the camp’s opening ceremony which was held at the Sydney Zoo at the start of the week.

Following a smoking ceremony, a karakia (prayer) was given and the karanga (call out, summon) was performed as a ritual chant of welcome.

The Māori’s teams were also gifted with their taonga (treasure) after it was blessed by elders.

The pounamu (greenstone) plays a significant role in Māori culture and is given as a taonga to increase mana (spiritual power or prestige) as they are passed on from one generation to another.

“It was a special moment,” Māori lock Kennedy Cherrington said.