After four consecutive grand final defeats, Ngāruahine, the South Taranaki iwi are at last, the Taranaki Māori Rugby League Champions.
After two days of competition, Ngāruahine triumphed over their neighbours Taranaki Tūturu 16-10 in the Premiership final. Mike Kahui, one of the Ngāruahine veterans spoke of their triumph, "We finally won one now and something to give back to our people, you know proud of us and all of our supporters and whānau".
Charging into the wind, Taranaki Tūturu scored first. Kahui said that made Ngāruahine "knuckle down and get a couple of points" of their own. Ngāruahine took a 6-4 lead into halftime
It was Ngāruahines’ turn to face the wind in the second half, as the intensity of both sides ramped up as both sides were chasing their first Taranaki Māori title, "it was probably the hardest final the boys have been in, quite a low scoring final", Kahui said.
While disappointed with the defeat, Taranaki Tūturu halfback Caleb Ritai says Ngāruahine are worthy victors, "they've had hard luck the last four years that they've made it to the finals, but they've finally got the dub. I wouldn't have rather lose to a better side than Ruahine today, much respect to them".
The tournament, hosted by different iwi each year, was this year held in Hāwera, hosted by Ngāti Ruanui. Seven of the 8 iwi from around Taranaki, plus a hapū, fielded teams. Tournament organiser Wayne Capper estimates attracted thousands of supporters over the weekend. Capper said that "all the iwi of Taranaki coming together under a common kaupapa, enjoying the great game of rugby league, whilst celebrating being Māori.
"To see the whakawhānaungatanga of all our iwi together and unite under our mountain has been pretty special".
Ritai said playing Māori rugby league, and representing their iwi is a different experience like no other, "it's the same as club league, I mean there's a lot more heart. You play for mana, and you play for your whānau. It's just a good experience. Nah, yeah it really gets me in the feels".
Though the tournament is only in its’ fifth year, it continues to grow bigger. This year saw the inauguration of a Women’s’ section, with Ngāruahine going at their eastern neighbours Ngāti Ruanui, with Ngāruahine winning both games to win the division
Kahui said that overall the tournament is getting stronger, "it's good for Taranaki, good for our kids. Something for our kids to strive to when they get older”.
Capper says there are plans underway to bring in rangatahi grades in the future, as iwi rugby league continues to grow in the Taranaki Whānui region.
The tournament will be played in New Plymouth in 2020, hosted by hapū Ngāti Te Whiti and Puke Ariki.
Caleb Ritai looks forward to Taranaki Tūturu avenging their loss, "as always, we'll keep fighting, and yeah we'll see you next year".