14 Nov 2018

Māori Ferns have two years to impress NRL

5:38 pm on 14 November 2018

The NRL's All-Star Māori versus Indigenous clash received overwhelming preference over All-Star and Pacific All-Star options further paving the way for women's rugby league.

Maori Ferns (white) playing the Kiwi Ferns (black) ahead the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup

Maori Ferns (white) playing the Kiwi Ferns (black) ahead the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup Photo: ZacLake

The NRL's All-Star Māori versus All-Star Indigenous back-to-back inaugural clash next February will serve as a pilot for the next two years after receiving overwhelming fan interest ahead of an All-Stars or Pacific All-Stars idea.

For the last five years women's Māori rugby league has held an annual iwi-based event where stand out performances are recognised for the Māori Ferns.

The competition has also hosted Queensland women's and Pacific selection sides leading to the first unofficial Māori/Indigenous match earlier this year in Sydney producing a disappointing result for New Zealand and prompting the Māori board to appoint former Kiwi Ferns coach Rusty Matua.

Matua's vision of decent preparation times and a fitness focus won the board over, and although the test-match is over two months away training on and off the field every Tuesday and Saturday in Manurewa is under way.

"We have got three months all up and we want to spend at least two and a half of them doing intensive fitness and the last two weeks will be strategy work in Australia," says Rusty

"Our haka and tikanga Māori is just as important as the rugby league and when you get the honour to play in a New Zealand Māori team there is an obligation to uphold the tikanga."

"The wairua of our tupuna is something we carry and it's something we want to instil in our players... that mana in regards to the way we conduct ourselves as ambassadors for Māori in February for the indigenous game."

Maori Ferns training session

Maori Ferns training session Photo: ZacLake

The 30-women training squad was recently announced with sixteen of those players having participated in this year's inaugural women's NRL competition.

Adding to that experience is former Kiwi Ferns player Kath Keremete who is currently captaining the New Zealand women's Kabaddi team set to leave for India on Friday for the Women's League Competition.

Keremete's selection and others like her was to inject leadership and established fitness while opening the floor to more options for the 2019 Kiwi Ferns side.

"It's quite ironic that our fitness leaders are all mums Krystal Rota, Hilda Mariu and Kath Keremete all leading by example and are role models to our girls," says Matua.

"But more emphasis on our tikanga Māori too, that's something that I personally want to bring back to the squad celebrating the positives of our culture."

"It's a celebration of our identity with our brothers and sisters in Australia and rugby league being the vehicle in this case it's what makes us unique in the world."

The final squad of twenty will be selected on January 10th before spending two days with their male counterparts in Australia at the NRL High Performance camp on February 8th and 9th.

With camp starting just two days after Waitangi Day camp will also include sharing kaupapa, haka and waiata with the Australian Indigenous sides. The game will take place on February 15th in Melbourne.