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Indigenous representation put on hold as Broncos re-signing of Mam a priority to All Stars clash

Andrew Mathieson -

Brisbane Broncos officials have advised Ezra Mam to withdraw from the annual NRL All Stars match, coinciding to the day of his signing a new five-year deal with the club.

Mam's absence will be the second successive year the proud dual Indigenous man has been unavailable for the popular cultural clash.

"It is just a little niggle in my groin," Mam explained while also primarily appearing to confirm his re-signing through until the end of the 2029 season.

"It really is not too serious.

"I will be back on the field at the end of the week."

The All Stars match in Townsville is not played until next Friday, still nine days away after a "niggle" has Mam back training.

Mam though expressed disappointment for not running out for one of the biggest days on the rugby league calendar, but has left the final decision up to the club.

He did not address at the club press conference whether or not conditions behind the contract extension to include representing the Indigenous All Stars had been entirely taken out of his hands.

"I just had to manage my load a bit," Mam said.

"I put all my trust in the performance staff here at the club.

"They just thought with my workload this year, it's just a too strenuous on my body."

The 21-year-old, in just his first full year in first grade that included running in three tries at the 2023 NRL grand final following a previous season in club development, is still yet to represent the Indigenous All Stars.

Last year, he somehow missed the groundbreaking match in Rotorua after not having the proper paperwork submitted in time to travel to New Zealand.

But the irony is Mam has appeared in traditional Torres Strait garb previously for the occasion, as a notable barefoot pre-game performer in 2021 before ever tying up his footy boots on the field.

"Hopefully, I can play in the game soon," Mam said.

"It has always been a big goal for me to represent my culture on the big stage."

There was also enough in his voice to suggest that waiting at least another 12 months to put his name forward deeply hurts the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal and Mualgal-Moa Islander man.

"It was a bit disappointing to pull out of the All Stars (match)," Mam said.

"I gave all the coaches a ring to tell them I had to pull out.

"But it was really disappointing having to miss it for a second year now.

"But who knows? Hopefully third-time lucky next year."

Mam's absence again remains a further blow to the concept that involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands players taking on their Maori rivals.

The Broncos five-eighth is the latest to put a line through his name after Kalyn Ponga did the same thing just last week.

Brisbane coach Kevin Walters also said, "we'll have a few boys playing, but I don't think (Reece Walsh) will be one of them".

Jack Wighton through suspension, but also Bradman Best, Selwyn Cobbo, Tyrell Sloan and Alex Johnston withdrew or have indicated they are unavailable this year, leaving Indigenous coach Ronnie Griffiths a depleted number of players to select from.

The growing list of unavailable stars has also delayed the announcement of the final side that originally had been slated in for Tuesday this week.

"We've had some players pull out due to injury, so it's a work in progress," Griffiths told NBN Newcastle.

"Last year was a lot more difficult on the back of the World Cup, but this year there are other factors like teams travelling to Vegas.

"So trying to work out the final squad has been reasonably challenging."

Josh Addo-Carr and Johnathan Thurston have also come out and urged NRL clubs not to stand in the way of Indigenous players featuring in the All Stars extravaganza.

Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Nicho Hynes, as well as Addo-Carr, are a near certainty to all play and are the last remaining key attractions left for the Australians.

The contest that originally began in 2010 when the Indigenous All Stars took on a non-Indigenous NRL All Stars team falls on the same weekend this year as most club's trials.

"Playing this game is the same as making the Origin team or Australian team, and if it means something to the players, you have to let them go ahead," Addo-Carr told Nine media.

"We don't get too many opportunities to represent our culture – and this is the best way to do it.

"Origin means something to the players, and for us Indigenous boys, this means the absolute world.

"Coaches want players to be game ready – and this is the perfect game to get started."

Thurston added that "this game is bigger than the clubs" and the one weekend a year should be left alone without interference.

There is already a push in club quarters to play the match on the Friday night before the NRL, NRLW and state championship deciders two days later that both coincides and kicks off the hugely popular NSW Koori Knockout that weekend.

"It would be very disappointing if they pull their players out of it," Thurston said.

"I love everything about it, as we've got the right concept now with the Maori All Stars.

"We have two proud cultures go head to head, and it's about learning about culture and providing our stories to the rest of the nation."

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