Hurricanes winger Nehe Milner-Skudder is welcoming this year's Te Matatini kapa haka competition, which will be held at at his super rugby home, Wellington's Westpac Stadium.
"I've already dotted it down in the calendar. The boys are in Christchurch that weekend, but it [Te Matatini] starts on Thursday, we've got a day off"
Milner-Skudder has produced some of the best footy highlights of his rugby career at the 'Cake Tin', but in two weeks time his whānau kapa haka group will take centre field to showcase their skills in the form of Māori culture and performing arts.
“I’ll try and get out and about and support the kaupapa,” he says.
The most recent sell-out event at Westpac Stadium was when the All Blacks faced South Africa in September, 2018. Milner-Skudder expects another sell-out, with the venue expected to be filled with kapa haka fans.
The 29-year-old All Black of Ngāti Porou and Tapuika tribes hopes to attend the competition to support a newly formed Te Tairāwhiti group from the small town of Ruatoria, Hikurangi Pariha.
Former Warriors and Melbourne Storm player. 38-year-old Wairangi Koopu, will take centre stage in less than two weeks' time with family group, Tauira Mai Tawhiti.
Koopu, who played 171 NRL matches across two NRL Clubs from 1999-2009 will make his second appearance at Te Matatini since joining the Te Kaha-based cultural group in memory of his late father, educator Tama Te Rerewa Ned Koopu.
"After the passing of my dad I just felt it was time for me to join a group that he helped to form," he says.
Koopu, who is now a TV personality, is a fluent speaker of te reo Māori and a graduate from Te Wharekura o Rakaumanga, one of New Zealand's leading total immersion schools. Koopu says kapa haka is a great way to engage with cultural identity.
"This is just one avenue to peruse in a team environment, but there are many other kaupapa to also follow," says Koopu.
For many years haka has found its place at the home of the Hurricanes. The All Blacks performing the haka Ka Mate, composed by Te Rauparaha, war leader of the Ngāti Toa is just one of many examples.
Ngāti Toa Rangatira is one of three iwi- with Te Atiawa and the iwi of Taranaki Whānui- who all play hosts to this year's national competition.
Current All Black and Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor has performed haka on the international stage 48 times since he first made national selection, the most recent against for the All Blacks against South Africa in September of last year in Wellington.
Taylor says he takes pride in his cultural heritage.
"Haka for me is about connecting myself back to my family and culture. It's huge, a lot of people see it as an intimidating factor but for most Māori involved and for us boys who’ve learn a bit about it its about connecting us to the ground that we're about to play on."
Milner-Skudder and the Hurricanes will have to wait till round four of the super rugby season to play at Westpac Stadium against the Highlanders, Friday 8th March. The All blacks return to Wellington on the 27th of July to play against South Africa.