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NZ Warriors aim to tap into Māori, Pasifika talent pool

Wednesday 14 December 2022 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Rugby league, Sports

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NZ Warriors aim to tap into  Māori, Pasifika talent pool
Cook Islands’ Tepai Moeroa and Kayal Iro defend against Tonga. Cook Islands lost the match 10-92. 22103014

Cook Islands will be hoping to gain exposure and experience from NZ Warriors’ commitment to have Māori and Pasifika representation in their sides at all levels, forming a new partnership to allow players a pathway towards the NRL and NRLW.

In tandem with the Pasifika Aotearoa Collective (PAC), aimed towards seeing a stronger voice for players from the likes of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, the Warriors will play their part in providing opportunities for Māori and Pasifika players.

A PAC-assembled under 15s side already showed their worth to NRL scouts, with victory over a Sydney Roosters under 15s team last weekend, and the Warriors have put themselves at the front of the queue to benefit from the talent influx breaking through.

Statistics taken by Australian outlet SBS has the number of Pasifika players making up 45 per cent of the NRL, despite only being two percent of Australia’s general population.

With Auckland being one of the world’s largest Pasifika communities, with close to 400,000 people of Pacific origin, according to MFAT, the synergy with the Warriors ahead of other NRL sides is natural.

And for the Warriors, the chance to tap into emerging Māori and Pasifika players coming through will be key as the NRL's only Kiwi club continues to push for a first premiership.

Cook Islands rugby league coach Tony Iro, who is also Warriors’ pathways and development coach, told Cook Islands News: “The idea for the collaboration is to connect the Warriors club with our developing Pasifika coaches, trainers, administrators and players to help develop their skills and talents.”

“Obviously, the Pacific nations and NZ Maori are all at different stages of their development as rugby league nations, so as a collective it allows all of their members the opportunity to be engaged in any camps or conventions we run as a group.

“The ultimate goal is to help further develop our Pasifika coaches and management, which will hopefully improve the ability of our young men and open up further opportunities for them.”

Charles Carlson, president of Cook Islands Rugby League, hailed the initiative from NZ Warriors as “good news”.

“NZ Warriors managed to get their reserve grade back in the NSW Cup including their U20s and U18s back … this creates a lot of opportunities for players to be in the Warriors system. Certainly, an advantage having Tony there and hopefully attract more of our Kuki players into the system,” Carlson said.

“This is an excellent pathway for young Pacific players wanting a career path in league. It will be hard being the only NRL (club) in NZ so a lot of commitment and dedication is required from these young players to make the team.”

Carlson said players such as Kayal Iro, Eric Newbigging, Adam Tangata and others went through the Warriors system.

In the past few years, Pasifika teams have made rugby league stand up and take notice.

In 2017, Tonga stunned the game with their performance at the Rugby League World Cup, coming within one incorrect decision of reaching the final, before going on to defeat Australia in 2018.

To go even better, Samoa built on their arch-rivals’ success, and became the first Pasifika team to reach the final, even if it ended in defeat to Australia.

And with the international game coming to the fore, and Pasifika certain to play a huge part in that, Warriors director of recruitment Andrew McFadden

acknowledges the Warriors want to “tap into” the obvious talent on show.

“Māori and Pasifika have always made up a huge portion of our side. Obviously the impact they’re having on the game, namely in the World Cup with the emergence of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

“It is growing, and it’s great players are committing to their nations they want to play for. It's not about money anymore, it's about having passion.

“We certainly want to tap into that.”

  • CI News/Alex Powell of Newshub