Preston Campbell, one of the visionaries of the NRL All-Stars game.
RUGBY LEAGUE: The man who conceived the NRL’s All Stars idea – Preston Campbell – said he would understand if players boycotted the rugby league showpiece over a salary dispute.
But Campbell hoped players would consider the impact the game had on the community programs it helped fund before striking.
Campbell was in Brisbane on Monday to help launch the final stage of public voting for the 2013 All Stars clash on February 9 to be held at Suncorp Stadium for the first time.
However, Campbell admitted he was concerned the headline event may be a fizzer if big name players opted to stay away.
The Rugby League Players Association held their latest round of talks with the Australian Rugby League Commission last week in a bid to increase the NRL salary cap from $5 million to $6.5 million next season.
Players have refused to rule out an All Stars strike over the dispute.
Campbell said players deserved a pay increase but hoped they did not earn it by ditching the All Stars clash.
“I understand the boys want to get what they can,” he told AAP.
“If the boys get a bit more then they deserve it. It’s a tough environment playing rugby league.
“But at the same time players have to realise that without the support of the community, without people buying merchandise or going to games, switching the TV on to watch a match, the game wouldn’t be as great – we need to remember that.”
The All Stars concept has helped raise almost $5 million for NRL community programs in its first three years, with the ARLC hoping to increase the initiatives it supports next year.
The All Stars game was one of the projects that helped the ARLC take out Governing Body of the Year at this year’s Beyond Sport Federation Awards in London.
“It would be disappointing if the game wasn’t played,” Campbell said.
“We would have to work a bit harder in trying to get the message out there.
“This is a great vehicle to get to a wider audience.
“It is making a big difference in so many people’s lives.”
Broncos star Justin Hodges said a strike would damage the good work the game did on and off the field.
“It would hurt everything,” he said.
“As players we want to get paid like everybody else.
“We deserve it. We put our bodies through a lot of torture.
“But I will leave it to the players association.
“Hopefully we can get out there and play … especially a game that means so much to our people.”
Public voting on the Indigenous side and a 64-man NRL All Stars shortlist will end on January 14.
Laurie Daley will return as Indigenous All Stars coach while Wayne Bennett will again take up the NRL team’s reins.