Richmond superstar Dustin Martin will take centre stage in next Friday night’s State of Origin clash after confirming he will play in the bushfire fundraiser.
The Herald Sun can reveal the Brownlow Medalist and dual premiership hero was the first player picked to lead Victoria into battle against the All-Stars in a near sold-out clash at Marvel Stadium on February 28.
He also unveiled the traditional navy blue and white ‘Big V’ jumper to be worn in the match.
Martin’s inclusion is a huge boost for the first State of Origin-style game in 12 years, with the biggest names in football including Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury and Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield (Victoria) and Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe and Carlton co-captain Patrick Cripps (All-Stars) tipped to lock horns under the roof.
Martin, arguably the game’s No. 1 player after winning a second Norm Smith medal win in last year’s Grand Final, said he would be honoured to pull on the ‘Big V’ to help raise vital funds for rural communities.
“I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the families and communities that have lost everything in the bushfires,” Martin told the Herald Sun.
“I’m really grateful to be able to play a small part along with the rest of the guys in helping rebuild these people’s lives and communities.”
Dustin Martin will don the Big V in the AFL’s State of Origin match. Picture: Alex Coppel.
The premiership Tiger was the first player picked to feature for Victoria.
Victoria coach Damien Hardwick and All-Stars boss John Longmire will release their squads at noon on Tuesday.
The duo face major headaches finalising their star-studded teams but the Herald Sun can confirm there has been a late selection criteria change to ensure the two sides are as strong as possible.
The two coaches will now be able to pick as many players as they like from each club after the AFL decided to scrap the previous three-player-per club limit.
It means there could be as many as five players from some of the top sides such as Richmond, Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney.
Martin is certain to be one of the headline acts on the night, with Tigers’ teammate Jack Riewoldt tipping the 28-year-old powerhouse to kick a big bag of goals in a forward role under lights.
All money raised will help communities devastated by the bushfire crisis last month.
The league and its 18 clubs have already pledged $2.5 million.
Martin called on footy fans to pack out Marvel Stadium next Friday night.
More than 40,000 tickets have already been sold.
Premiership coach Damien Hardwick will be in charge of the Victorian team. Picture: Alex Coppel.
Fellow flag winner John Longmire will be at the helm of the All Stars side.
“I hope we can get as many people along as possible and raise a lot of much-needed funds,” Martin said.
AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said the selection criteria change would allow the “best of the best” to play next Friday night.
“We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the playing group and the support from all the clubs,” Hocking said.
“Once we sat down with the coaches to discuss the teams it was clear we had a responsibility to have the best players in the competition play and make the State of Origin match the competitive showcase for the fans.
“It is such an important event, our industry coming together, to raise valuable funds for those who have been affected by the bushfires, and recognise the sacrifice of the firefighters, emergency services and thousands of volunteers around the country.”
“The Friday night double header at Marvel will be a great representation of both our women’s and men’s competitions.”
The two State of Origin squads will train together for the first time next Thursday.
Only a small handful of stars have been declared unavailable for State of Origin selection due to injury.
They include Sydney swans’ champion Lance Franklin (knee), Geelong tough-nut Joel Selwood (hamstring), Max Gawn (knee) and Hawthorn’s Jaeger O’Meara (managed).
Meanwhile, Hardwick will be able to call Hawthorn premiership mastermind Alastair Clarkson as his right-hand man in Victoria’s coaching box next Friday night.
Clarkson has signed up as one of four assistant coaches to support Hardwick for the State of Origin stoush at Marvel Stadium.
The pair have remained close friends since Clarkson helped mentor Hardwick during their time at Hawthorn together from 2005 — 2009.
Robert Harvey (Collingwood), Adam Kingsley (Richmond) and Dean Solomon (Gold Coast) are Victoria’s other assistant coaches.
All-Stars’ coach John Longmire has enlisted Stuart Dew (Gold Coast), Michael Voss (Port Adelaide), Mark McVeigh (GWS), Joel Corey (Western Bulldogs) and Dean Cox (Sydney) as his lieutenants.
The game will be broadcast live on FoxFooty. Adult tickets from $20 at Ticketmaster.