Top NRL stars set to bring best to Aotearoa tourism capital

By Tamati Tiananga

It is going to be the biggest indigenous clash in Te Arawa, one that is expected to attract fans from around Aotearoa and across 'the ditch'.   

Chair of NZ Māori Rugby League, John Devonshire, says, "The 'face' we are bringing the game home to host is huge. We’ve had discussions and hui with Te Arawa and the Rotorua Lakes Council who are major providers in getting the game to Rotorua."

The week-long event will see "Māori culture come to life," he says.

Why Rotorua is staging the biggest indigenous clash?  

Rotorua is renowned for its geothermal activity, age-old forests, and pristine lakes and rivers but in recent years the international tourism attraction has become the home of Māori Rugby League.

"We have a unique difference in the way we host and we have the opportunity to show our culture and manaakitanga that we are capable of hosting people our way, says Devonshire.

"We have done it their way and we have been in the Gold Coast, Townsville and Sydney and we’ve experienced how the indigenous people of Australia do things." 

Superstars set to play on home soil 

Devonshire has confirmed most NRL and WNRL players eligible and available to play next month have made themselves available but has concerns about the availability of players signed with the newly formed NRL club, the Dolphins. 

"The Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, have been a big part of us. I have left that up with the coach and managers. We are aware that they are getting toward the end of their international careers but they really love playing for the Māori and a lot of them are making themselves available."

Newcastle Knights player Kalyn Ponga, who Devonshire expected to be available for next month's fixture, has suffered a calf-related injury at training this week. But Devonshire says Ponga's injury is not expected to be serious and the Queensland fullback will continue to be monitored.

"We are aware that he has picked up an injury and to be fair where there are players who have a slight injury they will not be risked."

Coaching Staff 

The NZ Māori Rugby League has designed a two to three-year plan with Māori All Stars coach Benny Gardiner who understands the cultural aspect required. Gardiner joins back-to-back NRL premiership winners the Penrith Panthers this season as an assistant coach to head coach Ivan Cleary. In August, Gardiner was named the Māori All Stars head coach and former Kiwi internationals Adam Blair and Issac Luke as assistant coaches. 

"Benny is a proud Australian and he has been with us since day one in those roles and knows the cultural aspect and what’s required. But we’ve identified Māori who recently finished and created a pathway to coaching and that's why we’ve introduced Adam Blair and Issac Luke."   

Fixture Information - NRL Harvey Norman All-Stars: Māori v Indigenous

The 2023 All Stars game coincides with the 50-year anniversary of the first Indigenous Rugby League tour of New Zealand.

Date: Saturday 11 February 2023 

Venue: Rotorua International Stadium, Devon St West, Rotorua

TImings:

1.15pm - Gates open

2.15pm - Mixed Touch Football: Māori All Stars vs Australian Indigenous All Stars

3.30pm - Aotearoa NZ Māori Wahine Toa All Stars vs Australian Indigenous Women’s All Stars

5.45pm - Aotearoa NZ Māori Tane All Stars vs Australian Indigenous Men’s All Stars

Ticket information is available here.