Dumbfounded at the suggestion that the Harvey Norman All Stars game is under threat, Indigenous All Stars back-rower Greg Bird says the NRL regular season should be reduced in order to secure its future on rugby league's calendar.
With the existing agreement with the Queensland Government expiring following Saturday night's sixth instalment at Suncorp Stadium where and when the 2017 All Stars game will be played remains uncertain.
A crowd of close to 40,000 is expected to see the Indigenous All Stars take on the World All Stars for the first time this weekend and given the widespread community work that takes place during the week current and former players have pleaded for it to stay.
The 2017 NRL season will be reduced from 26 rounds to 25 in order to accommodate a dedicated international window at the end of the season but Bird believes a further reduction would produce better games and allow space for events such as the All Stars game and the Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
"I think the season should be quite shorter," Bird said while speaking to students at Woodcrest College in Springfield about healthy living.
"If you look at other codes like the NFL for example, I think they have 16 rounds, I think it would put more emphasis on every match.
"Every match would have a massive amount of importance, there would be no matches where teams will be massively under-strength through the Origin period and things like that.
"I think that would be ideally the option but then you've got to look at TV rights and things like that and the people that are putting money into the sport as well, they've got their own say."
Rabbitohs prop Thomas Burgess will make his All Stars debut for the World All Stars this weekend and said he has been a fan of the concept since older brother Sam announced himself in Australia in the inaugural game in 2010.
"It's cool. I obviously first heard about it when Sam played in it in 2010 and I wasn't living here then and I thought it was pretty cool back then," said Burgess, adding that he and James Graham are bringing a "bit of good old English banter" into the cultural mix.
"They've changed it up a little bit this year with the World All Stars and I was pumped to hear that I was in the team and celebrating the diversity in the league as well."
One of only four members of the 2010 Indigenous All Stars team playing on Saturday, Bird missed last year's game due to injury and is mystified that given what the week represents that it might not go ahead in the future.
"I was under the understanding that it was embedded in the game," said Bird, who has played in four of the five All Stars games.
"I find it strange every year when the same topic's brought up because we pack out stadiums and we see the involvement that all teams have in the communities. Going to schools, running coaching clinics and doing community work, I don't understand why it keeps popping up.
"You see by the crowds we pull and the community work that the guys do, you see how happy everyone is and I'm seriously dumbfounded how every year we have to face these questions on its appropriateness.
"There's a lot that gets put into not just the game but the whole week. It's a very, very valuable part of the season."
The Indigenous All Stars meet the World All Stars in the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars clash at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, 13 February. Some seats are still available – details at NRL.com/tickets.
This article first appeared on NRL.com