Smith Inspires Maori's To NRL All Stars Triumph, But It's Quaden Bayles Who Steals The Show
It was billed as a battle of the fullbacks but hooker Brandon Smith stole the show to inspire the Maori's 30-16 win over their injury hit Indigenous rivals in Saturday's NRL All Stars clash on the Gold Coast.
However, it was actually bullying victim Quaden Bayles who stole the show.
He helped lead the Indigenous side onto the field ahead of the clash, just three days after the heartbreaking story of his bullying caught the world's attention.
During the match all eyes were on NSW centre Latrell Mitchell's first crack at the Indigenous No 1 jersey, lining up a mouth watering showdown with Maori and Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga.
While both showed flashes of brilliance, Melbourne rake Smith upstaged everyone with a stunning, late two-try display that brought the 23,599-strong crowd to their feet.
It added insult to injury for the Indigenous outfit who lost Wade Graham (ankle), Tyrone Roberts (ankle), Josh Kerr (knee) and Chris Smith to what they fear is season ending ACL damage.
Remarkably Smith's heroics almost never happened, with Maori coach David Kidwell he was tempted to take the workaholic rake off the field before his match turning display.
"We were actually going to take him off there for a second but I am lucky I made the call to leave him out," he said.
"He just keeps surprising, he keeps going. It''s not a fluke that he does that stuff (but) coming into an environment like this it just elevates him to another level."
After the Maori led 12-10 at halftime, the game appeared to be broken open in the 57th minute when James Roberts turned around Ponga and scored off a David Fifita bust to give the Indigenous outfit a 16-12 lead.
Enter fan favourite Smith.
First he barged over in the 69th minute to snatch back the lead.
He was at it again four minutes later, only to be denied by the video referee for a double movement.
But there was no doubting his next effort when he burrowed over under the posts in the 75th, all but ensuring the Maori avenged their 34-14 loss last year.
Centre Dylan Walker iced the result with an 80th-minute try.
The Maori's only complaint was losing co-captain and winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (back).
In the fullback duel, Mitchell came up trumps in his first big one on one test with Ponga after the Maori No 1 made a 35th minute bust, only for his Indigenous opposite number to cut him down.
He also pulled off another try-saving tackle but in the end they shared honours before Mitchell played the majority of his second stint on the field in the centres with Alex Johnston at fullback.
A bit of history was made in the 65th minute when the first captain's call was used by Maori's Adam Blair when he queried a knock on against Kenny Bromwich but it was unsuccessful.
The captain's call is also being trialled in the Charity Shield clash before a decision will be made on whether to adopt it for the 2020 season.
Over in the women's event, comeback queen Nakia Davis-Welsh has helped the Indigenous All Stars women gain sweet revenge with a 10-4 win over the Maori on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Winger Davis-Welsh burst back on to the big stage by capping an impressive display with the match-winning try in the 47th minute as the Indigenous women bounced back from last year's 8-4 All Stars defeat.
A member of the Jillaroos' 2017 World Cup winning team, Davis-Welsh appears back in top form after missing a season of footy following the birth of her first child in 2019.
Featured image via AAP.