Prized Parramatta recruit Chris Sandow is one of five newcomers in a star-studded Indigenous All Stars team announced today at Redfern for the 2012 Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars at the Gold Coast’s Skilled Park on February 4.

Sandow’s superb 2011 season and high-profile switch to the Eels captured the imagination of fans, who selected him to partner captain Johnathan Thurston in the halves in the 20-man squad released today at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

Sandow joins superstars Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs) and Justin Hodges (Broncos) – who have missed the first two All Stars games due to injury – and young guns Nathan Peats (Rabbitohs) and Andrew Fifita (Sharks) as debutants in an exciting Indigenous All Stars line-up that boasts 10 players with Test experience.

“It is a great honour to be selected to represent my people and I am really excited about the opportunity to play alongside Johnathan Thurston in the halves,” Sandow said today.

“I love the All Stars concept and I know my friends and family will be excited about coming to the game.”

Over 15,000 fans cast their vote online at NRL.com to pick 16 players to join Thurston, who was an automatic selection as captain, while coach Laurie Daley and his selectors added a further three players to the 20-man squad.

Thurston topped the voting with 11,282, followed by Broncos winger Jharal Yow Yeh (7568), Inglis (7530), new Broncos captain Sam Thaiday (7331) and Titans lock Greg Bird (7105).

Anthony Mitchell (Roosters), Joel Thompson (Raiders) and Peats (Rabbitohs) were the coach’s selections.

“I am really happy with the quality of the team the public has selected and with the names announced today we are in the very best position to win the Arthur Beetson trophy come February 4,” said Daley.

“I know all Indigenous Rugby League players look up to Artie for what he did for Rugby League and for Indigenous Australians and with the trophy representing a true legend of the game, we will have extra incentive to win the All Stars match.

“The NRL All Stars team will be a world-class side, but all the players announced today will be playing to win and also to honour the passing of a Rugby League legend.”

The 2012 Indigenous All Stars team is:
1. Ben Barba (Bulldogs; Goreng Goreng)
2. Jharal Yow Yeh (Broncos; Margany)
3. Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs; Dunghutti)
4. Justin Hodges (Broncos; Indigenous tribes of the Cairns region)
5. Nathan Merritt (Rabbitohs; Wiradjuri)
6. Johnathan Thurston (c) (Cowboys; Gungarri)
7. Chris Sandow (Eels; Bigambul/ Gubbi Gubbi)
8. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Raiders; Indigenous tribes of Tweed area)
9. Travis Waddell (Raiders; Torres Strait: Badulaig)
10. George Rose (Sea Eagles; Kamilaroi)
11. Sam Thaiday (Broncos; Torres Strait: Iama (Yam Island)
12. Jamal Idris (Titans; Worimi)
13. Greg Bird (Titans; Kamilaroi)
Interchange:
14. Andrew Fifita (Sharks; Wiradjuri)
15. Cory Paterson (Cowboys; Indigenous tribes of the Blue Mountains region)
16. Matthew Bowen (Cowboys; Binthi and Dhaarrba)
17. Scott Prince (Titans; Kalkadoon)
18. Anthony Mitchell (Roosters; Waka Waka)
19. Joel Thompson (Raiders; Wiradjuri)
20. Nathan Peats (Rabbitohs; Biripi nation)
Coach: Laurie Daley (Wiradjuri)

Indigenous All Stars captain Johnathan Thurston  showcased the 2012 jersey that was designed by former player and Indigenous artist Sid Domic for the third year.

The jersey features a turtle shell, representing the people of the Torres Strait Island, boomerangs for the Australian Aboriginal people and a blue circle symbolising the Gold Coast.

The other major change to the jersey this year is the appearance of a Torres Strait Islander traditional “Dhari” head-dress, which Domic incorporated after requests from Torres Strait Islander All Stars fans.

ARL Indigenous Council Chairman, Mr William “Smiley” Johnstone, was present at today’s team announcement where he paid tribute to the late Rugby League Immortal and Indigenous Team of the Century member Arthur Beetson OAM.

“Arthur has left an important legacy to Rugby League and I think it is fitting that such a legendary figure for our people and the game has been honoured with the All Stars trophy being named after him,” he said.

“You only have to sit among the crowd at Skilled Park and hear the roar of the fans or to experience one of the many community visits during All Stars week to understand the impact of this game on Indigenous Australians.”

Johnstone also announced that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation - an organisation established to foster reconciliation for the Stolen Generations - is deepening its engagement by becoming an official charity partner of the NRL, in addition to its continued support of the Indigenous All Stars.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation CEO Richard Weston said: “This new charity partnership is an exciting development which will help emphasise the importance of Indigenous Healing and bring the healing message to more Australians.”

After last week announcing that the Federal Government would sponsor two education and training scholarships in honour of Arthur Beetson, the Minister for Sport and Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, the Hon Mark Arbib, said the All Stars match was an important event on Australia’s sporting and cultural calendar.

“The partnership with the NRL, in particular the annual All Stars match, has been phenomenal in spreading the Learn Earn Legend! message to stay in school, get a job and be a legend,” Senator Arbib said.

“One of the best ways to ensure young Indigenous Australians make a successful transition from school to work is to put them on a pathway to a job while they are still at school.”

With the Indigenous All Stars team now in place, fans can turn their attention to voting for Wayne Bennett’s NRL All Stars side, with stage one voting open at www.nrl.com/allstars until December 23. In this stage of voting the public is asked to select two forwards and two backs from each of the 16 NRL clubs.

Bennett will then place the 64 shortlisted players into his chosen positions, including his preference for the make-up of the bench.

Stage two of NRL All Stars voting will commence on December 27, where the public have the challenge of selecting just one player from each of the 16 NRL clubs to join automatic choices, captain Benji Marshall and Australian team selection Cameron Smith. The final team will be announced on January 19.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh welcomed the announcement of the Indigenous All Stars today: “Congratulations to the 2012 Indigenous All Stars team, set to compete in a unique match which brings together Rugby League’s best Indigenous and non-Indigenous players.

“What a great honour to have the opportunity to play for the Arthur Beetson Trophy – a fitting tribute to an iconic Queenslander and Rugby League legend, and the first indigenous Australian person to captain a national sporting team.

“Queenslanders are proud of their Rugby heritage with last year’s NRL All Stars match drawing crowds of more than 25,800 – which is great for the Gold Coast economy, local businesses and jobs.

“That is why the Queensland Government, through Events Queensland, is proud to continue supporting this event which brings one of the most exciting exhibition matches to the Gold Coast.”

Tickets are available through Ticketek outlets, on 132 849 or www.ticketek.com.au. New Zealand customers can call 0800 842 538 or +61 132 849.