Australian Māori players have turned out at the Junior National Touch championships in Auckland in the hope to play for New Zealand. Players who play at the tournament are eligible for the World Cup this year in Malaysia.
They may be Australian bred, but their heart and intent are set on New Zealand.
“It's always been a dream to play for New Zealand, and play for where I'm from,” says Canterbury Under-18s player Bailey Te Ohaere (Ngāti Hako).
The same was for teammate Kyle Turei (Ngāti Porou), “Mum and Dad are from New Zealand, and hopefully make the family proud to make this New Zealand team.”
Touch NZ High Performance and Pathways manager Michelle Kirker says that all players who play at this tournament, irrespective of whether they live in New Zealand, or overseas, will be considered for the World Cup in August.
“Just because they've left our shores doesn't mean to say we can't utilize them, or can't have them back into our system. Certainly, they bring a whole another style to us that we're looking forward to being able to add to our toolbox of game knowledge,” says Kirker.
For players like Kapumanawawhiti Broughton-Winterburn (Ngāti Raukawa), who is Brisbane based but returns annually to play for Horowhenua-Kāpiti, playing back home was a bit of an adjustment.
“Back there it's more fast, and drilled too. It's more physical here.”
“I just think that because I was brought up in Australia, I've become a more structured player, trying to be a more structured player. Coming over here, there's not really a structure, but it's still fun to play,” says Turei.
It's been 13 years since the last youth world cup which New Zealand won. They're intent on regaining the crown.
Says Kierker, “The basics of the game of touch is what will win it for us. A defensive game's got to be a strong game. [These will] provide us with the best opportunities to take out our counterparts which are those Australians.”
The New Zeland team will have their first camp in April, where the final squad will be chosen.