Māori NRL players want to play at Māori tournament

By James Perry

Although they weren't allowed to play, some Māori NRL players still attended the Māori League tournament in Rotorua. They are hoping a pathway can eventually be found that will allow them to play in the tournament.

Jazz Tevaga, who has affiliations to Ngāti Porou, was one of many NRL players who attended the tournament in Rotorua over the weekend. He was with a group he describes as his "best mates" in the Kotahitanga team.

"We like coming back and giving back where we can. You know if we can help them be better players or better men then so be it. If it's filling up the waters, or picking up the rubbish so be it." 

Tevaga and fellow Warriors players Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad and James Bell were among the players with NRL experience who were helping the side out over the weekend.

Former Warrior Charlie Gubb and Warrior squad member Manaia Cherrington were able to take the field.

Kotahitanga player Willie Stowers, himself having NSW Cup experience, says having the experienced players on the sideline and on the field is great.

"It's massive for the boys, cause they're feeding off them. They got so much experience and they give heaps to us and to this Māori tournament," he says.

Conditions in their NRL contracts and the risk of injury prevented the likes of Tevaga from playing at this year's tournament. There is hope that one day they can play again.

New Zealand Māori Rugby League chairman John Devonshire says having the NRL players "enhances the mana of the tournament", but is saddened that many of them no longer have the opportunity "to come back and participate for their whānau, hapū, and iwi and for their people."

Tevaga is hopeful that the NRL or the NZRL can find a way to allow the players to participate in the future.

"They have that Aboriginal comp in Aussie and I think it's NRL accredited and a lot of the NRL players go back and play. [It would be good to] find a way to do that so that our players are safe and that we're able to come back and play in these sort of tournaments," he says.

Stowers would be happy to see more Māori NRL players at the tournament, even if they're not playing.

"That will help this tournament heaps you know, get a few of those Māori boys that are running around in the NRL to come back and help out. I think it will help to grow this tournament and grow Māori rugby league."

Kotahitanga made the final of the rohe section this year, where they lost to Raukawa ki Runga, however, the great thing for this group of friends is being able to hang out together again.