Indigenous NRL opener to come to Aotearoa in 2023

By Will Trafford

The NRL curtain-raising clash between NZ Māori and Indigenous All Stars looks likely to come to Aotearoa next, after the Kiwi side took the Australians 16-10 in a come-from-behind win in Parramatta on Saturday.

NZ Māori Coach David Kidwell told media the NRL’s chief executive Andrew Abdo pulled him aside moments after the victory to confirm the move.

“He promised me that we would take the game back to New Zealand next year," Kidwell told the press.

"I think that is a great way for us to showcase our culture and we would be happy with that, being able to showcase this game back home in New Zealand. That's for sure."

Having conceded the opening try, Kidwell’s team followed up with three unanswered tries from halfback Kodi Nikorima, Esan Marsters and Joe Tapine in front of a 27,000 strong crowd.

The match was opened with a haka Fox sports commentators described as"spine-tingling: and "a terrific display of culture". The haka met by a rousing first nation response, including a traditional war cry; the teams also paying tribute to fallen heroes of the game Norm Provan, Johnny Raper and Kiwis great Olsen Filpaina, who died of complications from kidney disease earlier in the week.

A trans-tasman shift for 2023 could make it the first top-tier men’s rugby league match in Aotearoa in three years given the Warriors were forced to decamp to Australia to participate in the NRL season when the pandemic closed borders; Warriors player and NZ Māori co-captain Nikorima confirmed it would be huge for players and fans on collecting the top gong Saturday.

"I know our people back home would love that, so we will see. It's up to Abdo to make that decision."

"Hopefully we can take this game back home to New Zealand next year - that would be awesome," he said.

The indigenous matches kicked off in Australia in 2010.

The idea a defence could be mounted in Aotearoa has already been praised by stalwarts of the game including former Māori captain, Warriors player and Te Ao Toa presenter Adam Blair.

"It's been two years since rugby league has been played here in Aotearoa," Blair wrote on Instagram.

"@NZMaoriRugbyLeague and everyone that has worn that jersey have done enough that this game deserves to be brought home.

Blair said the Indigenous game would be the ideal way to jumpstart the season after years of hibernation in New Zealand.

"All Stars game to kick start the season at home in 2023 and the @NZWarriors back. Lessgooo.”