More than 800 children made their way to Rotorua in the weekend to play rugby league in a tournament that honours Robert Tukiri, a past pioneer of the New Zealand Māori rugby league community.
Officially a non-competitive event, the children still played their hearts out. It was also an opportunity for 23 aspiring Māori youth referees to upskill and build their experience.
NZ Māori Rugby League Association kaumātua Takaroa Raihe has been a strong supporter of the kaupapa for many years.
But last year the tournament had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.
So he was delighted to see it was back this Anzac weekend, with boys and girls under 12 from 35 teams.
“It is about fun, it is non-competitive for our children. Although one can see competitiveness among all the teams, that is not what this tournament is about,” Raihe says.
The games were an opportunity for young Māori referees like 15-year-old Epiha Kete from Wahi Pā and Te Kauri Marae to upskill, even though it had its challenges.
The bidding future NRL Māori referee from Rāhui Pōkeka says, “Most of the time the crowd is in your ear but, as the saying goes,’the referee has the final say’”.
This June there will be a NZ Māori League competitive tournament for 13-17-year-old boys and girls in Rotorua.