Covid-19 was bad enough when it put off New Zealand Māori Rugby’s competition for its junior players for two years.
Finally, at the weekend, 43 league teams took part in the tournament aimed at 13 and 14-year-old boys and girls and on the first day they nearly got rained out
But despite the torrential rain, they kept on playing, with games moved to another field for the second day.
Interestingly, NRL scouts were also present and that's prompted the question of whether they should be focusing on such young players.
Over the two-day tournament the Educational Sports Programme Trust, made up of Stanley Martin, Dixon Mciver and their team of selectors, scouted for players to add to their programme next year in Auckland.
They look at the under 13s and their abilities on the paddocks before recruiting them to go for high-performance programmes next year for NRL club training. The fourteen-year-olds are in a crucial timeframe natural because when they turn fifteen is when the kids get selected for NRL clubs.
'Good natural football'
Asked what they look for in a layer, Mciver says he is “looking for the natural ability they have first and foremost. Just seeing them in this environment and playing some really good natural football is a really good foundation in what we try to look for.”
Young Māori NRL Storm and Kiwi hooker Brandon Smith has been one talent Martin and Mciver have identified.
Māori Rugby League New Zealand board member Titia Graham supports the involvement of these NRL scouts although she does have concerns that these players are still children. Graham also believes parents and cubs would be able to foster and support their children through these scouts if they were to progress.
Aayla Toman and Hunter Ahiotaua were both standouts in their under 14s grand finals at the weekend and both made the tournament team to play in the Pacifica Aotearoa Collective in October.
“Why I like the game is because it is actually a good game, Toman says. “I started last year and just built my way up¸ playing with boys illegally.
Ahiotaua says what he loves coming to the Māori tournament is “because I get to represent myself and where I come from. I come from up north in Ngā Puhi - that is my Iwi”.
Auckland won the 13-year-old girls’ tournament and Waikato won the boys’ tournament. Wainuiomata won the 14-year-old girls’ tournament and Auckland won the boys’ tournament.