The first Junior Oceania Tag Football tournament kicked off this weekend in Auckland.
Due to popular demand, the tournament was set up after successfully hosting a similar tournament last year.
It’s been weeks in the making, but finally, these young stars get to play.
Tournament organiser Claude Iusitini says, “We felt that there needs to be some sort of pathways for our kids to aspire to play a minimal-contact sport.”
There are 86 teams from 10 nations in the tournament, from afar as Sāmoa, Tonga, The Cook Island's. Even Aotearoa Maori have a team.
Organising the tournament – according to Iusitini – has been “smoother than we expected.”
“As you can see behind me, and around me, it's a very successful concept.”
For many of the young Māori players who turned up to Ngāti Ōtara Park, it's the love of the game that has seen them enter the Oceania tournament.
Aotearoa Māori under-14’s mixed team member Stephon Maera (Te Aupouri, Ngāpuhi, Tainui) says, “It’s my preferred game (over touch) because it suits me as I'm rather big.”
“I like the vibe and the camaraderie,” says Aotearoa Māori under-16’s player Naumai-Aaria Wall (Ngāti Tūwharetoa).
With the age restriction at 18, it is expected that those players will step up next year to the Oceania senior tournament, which runs bi-annually.
“This is almost like a pathway, we're preparing them for the next level,” says Iusitini.
Action continues tomorrow with the age-grade finals.