Rabbitohs five-eighth and Indigenous All Stars captain Cody Walker has led his side to a 32-14 victory in the 2019 Harvey Norman All-Stars match tonight at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
A spirited and fierce war dance from both sides sparked an emotionally-charged opening exchange, and it was Rabbitohs’ Maōri winger Dane Gagai scoring after just two minutes, miraculously recovering a juggling ball and planting it down just inches from the touchline. With the conversion kicked, the Maōri side were up 6-nil after just two minutes.
Gagai went from hero to villain five minutes later, making a mistake in the Maōri All Star’s own end, with Walker soon adding more pressure to the opposition by forcing a drop out with a well-weighted kick. On the ensuing set, the Indigenous side hit back through their own winger, Josh Addo-Carr through a left-hand backline move.
A Latrell Mitchell sideline conversion attempted was waved away, with the Maōris still up 6-4 after twelve minutes.
Just two minutes later, Addo-Carr was in again after another backline shift, this time with Walker playing a major role in drawing inside defenders to open up gaps on the edges for his winger to score. Mitchell made up for his previous missed conversion, bringing the scores to 10-6 after the first quarter.
Lazy penalties marred the opening minutes of the second stanza, with the Indigenous side giving away three in a row on their own line. The Maōri side struck again when Gagai scored another miracle try to bring the scores to 10-all at the half-hour mark, this time reaching out to put the ball down before being thrown into touch.
The Indigenous All Stars produced a try of monumental proportion just minutes later, with centre Jesse Ramien breaking away 60-metres, kicking the ball away for his winger Bevan French to score. A shanked kick from Mitchell left the scores 14-10.
In the shadows of half-time, it was another try for Walker’s side, who went in for their fourth try of the night as their other winger Blake Ferguson cashed in on a Pita Hiku error, extending the lead to eight to finish off a stellar half for the Indigenous side.
Walker's side was nearly in again in the early stages of the second half, with Alex Johnston nearly touching down only for a forward pass to be called in the lead-up.
But a Ferguson break followed by a penalty allowed the Indigenous side prime territory, and after a relatively quiet first-half, Walker injected himself into the contest and produced his side's fifth try of the match, grubbering through a perfectly-weighted kick for David Fifita to touch down for a fourteen-point lead after 45 minutes.
Tempers flared just minutes later as front rowers Andrew Fifita and Adam Blair clashed heads, and the Maōris hit back through Esan Marsters barging over the line to close the gap with half an hour to go.
The try seemed to buoy the Maōri side, springing to life at the end of the third quarter, breaking the Indigenous defensive line on multiple occasions, with forward Joseph Tapine coming close to bridging the gap, only to fall short just inches from the line. Just as the Maōris looked to land a blow, a Ferguson intercept saw the hulking winger go downfield 80 metres, only for Tapine to throw the winger into touch to give the end of the third quarter an entertaining finish.
The fourth quarter saw Walker explode into the match, backing up a James Roberts break in the 63rd minute to go over for a long-range try, dedicating the try to his family from the North Coast of NSW, telling Sam Thaiday: "It's a real honour I enjoy playing the knock-out each year and that one was for you fellas at home!"
The contest continued to go back and forth, with both Walker and Gagai diffusing last-tackle kicks and adding spark to their respective sides, but it was relative unknown Josh Kerr scoring the game-sealing try in the 74th minute.
Indigenous All Stars 34 (Josh Addo-Carr 2, Bevan French, Blake Ferguson, David Fifita, Cody Walker, Josh Kerr tries; Latrell Mitchell 3 goals)
Maōri All Stars 14 (Dane Gagai 2, Esan Marsters tries; Jordan Kahukuranui goals)