A late Latrell Mitchell penalty has secured a 10-10 draw for the Indigenous All Stars in a willing, thrilling pre-season rugby league clash with the Maori All Stars.
The Indigenous team spent most of Saturday night’s game in Townsville playing from behind as the Maori pushed out to a 10-2 lead.
In his first match since August, South Sydney star Mitchell led a spirited fightback.
The fullback provided the assist for their only try with a deft kick for Alex Johnston to score then nailed the sideline conversion to make it 10-8 in the 64th minute, setting up an grandstand finish as the Indigenous side threatened to overrun their rivals.
With his team clinging desperately to their lead in the final two minutes, Maori forward James Fisher-Harris was penalised for tackling the dummy half without the ball right on his goal line and Mitchell levelled the scores from in front.
The 20,206-strong crowd roared the Indigenous side into one more attack but the sound of the hooter ended the match, with no golden point extra time available in the pre-season match.
Fisher-Harris was the recipient of Preston Campbell medal for best on field despite his late transgression while both teams will share the Arthur-Beetson trophy in light of the draw.
After three memorable clashes between these two teams in the past three years, the record now stands at one win apiece and one draw.
Earlier the calming presence and organisation of veteran Benji Marshall looked to have the Maori on track to back up last year’s win.
The Maori had the lion’s share of possession in the first half at 61 per cent but couldn’t capitalise as errors totalled 17 for both sides in wet and slippery conditions.
Maori centre Joseph Manu went close to scoring when he extended his arm from a tackle in the final play of the first half, but lost control.
A point of contention was Zane Musgrove’s sin-binning in the 36th minute for a shoulder charge on Tyrell Fuimaono. He may well miss NRL round 1 for West Tigers once done with the judiciary.
The try deadlock was finally broken in the 49th minute by a sweet cutout pass from Marshall to a rampaging Jordan Riki who crashed over next to the posts with Patrick Herbert adding the extras.
In the 53rd minute Manu intercepted a long pass from Jamal Fogarty and set off for the tryline 70 metres away.
Manu passed to his captain as he didn’t quite have the legs and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak scored the Maori’s second try in five minutes.
Leading at 10-2, the Maori team looked comfortable enough to grind out the final quarter of the game but as Mitchell returned to the field from a break, the tide turned.