Māori All-Stars coaches and assistant coaches named

By Herewini Waikato

Former Māori All-Stars captain and Te Ao Toa presenter Adam Blair was today named as an assistant coach of the Māori All-Stars for the Harvey Norman Indigenous All-Stars’ games next year.

“It is actually the most nervous I have been in a long time because it has become a reality to coach, and to coach Māori at this level is what I have always wanted to do,” Blair said.

Blair, who hails from Te Tai Tokerau, played for 14 years in the NRL and he also wore the Kiwi and Māori jerseys. He has had his fair share of coaching and helping out teams but not at this level, he admitted.

“I guess my background is defence and history says the best defensive teams win competitions. This is my strength to develop a team that will stop any offence. I love my Aboriginal whānau and they love us but, come game time there can only be one winner,” Blair said. 

Succession plan

Benny Gardiner, the assistant coach for the Wests Tigers was named head coach with Blair and Issac Luke as assistant coaches.

New Zealand Māori Rugby League chairman John Devonshire said having Luke and Blair play the game at a high level, “there are no more passionate Māori warriors than themselves and they will soak it up and they will learn. That is the other beauty of Benny’s appointment is that they will learn from Benny and, in terms of a succession plan, they are it”.

The succession plan comes because the NRL has strict rules and procedures for accrediting coaching and management personnel.

“In the NRL you need to have coaching accreditation, you need accreditation just to run the water. We don’t have any or enough accredited Māori to take on roles like this therefore we have prepared pathways like this with Blair and Luke under Gardiner’s watchful eye and expertise.”

Two of the best Māori rugby league stars ready to give back

Long history

Devonshire, whose whakapapa is Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, was happy to hold today’s announcement at Waahi Pā as it is home to King Tuheitia whose grandfather and mother were the first patrons of the NZ Māori Rugby League. He noted the organisation started in 1908, almost 114 years ago. “And tradition cannot be severed because of its kaupapa and who stood for us,” he said.

The All-Star games that included NRL players started five years ago, with the first in Redfern, Sydney. Four games have been played, and NZ Māori has won two, drawn one, and lost one.

Coaches for next year’s Māori women’s indigenous team are Keith Hanley (Ngāpuhi) assisted by John Strange (Ngāpuhi), who was with the Sydney Roosters NRLW, and manager Stephaine Spooner (Ngāti Kahungunu).  

The games next February in Rotorua will be the first All-Stars games to be held in Aotearoa.