Since starting in 2016, the Pacific Rugby League Series has gained momentum, establishing itself as the perfect platform to bring Pasifika families together and late last year, Te Toka Tū o Waitaha re-established a Māori presence in the tournament.
Te Toka Club President, Shane Tamatea (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Mahāki, Ngāti Kahungunu), says Māori teams have been absent from the tournament for several years. With that in mind, that he and Ricky Manihera (Ngāi Tahu, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou) and a group of committed league whānau, established Te Toka Tū o Waitaha in 2022.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for those who reside in the Waitaha rohe and who have a passion for rugby league to come together as Māori o ngā maata waka. It’s also a chance for team members to learn about their culture and we’ve been amazed by the response,” he says.
Interest in the new team was sudden and overwhelming.
“We quickly had enough people for three or four teams and after we put it on Facebook, one thing lead to another and now we have 16 teams ranging from Under 5s to Senior Men. The high level of interest took us by surprise. Everyone wanted to jump on the kaupapa. There was obviously a hunger among parents to have their tamariki and rangatahi learn about their culture, and promoting te reo Māori me ona tikanga through wānanga, waiata and haka sits at the heart of our club’s aims.”
Now, with over 250 players, coaches and support staff, Te Toka Tū o Waitaha is primed and ready for their first season on the competitive field and thanks to huge support from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, they have been able to provide the stylish new uniforms for all players and coaches, plus all of the behind-the-scenes technical support they needed.
“We wanted to give our players a sense of belonging. We wanted them to feel the mana of putting on our jersey and knowing that we’re all in this together,” says Shane.
“We couldn’t have put our stamp on the tournament – looking the sharpest team there – without Te Pūtahitanga’s help. That’s been huge for all of us. We do some of our own fundraising but we could never have done enough to fit-out our entire teams, feed all our tamariki, make fees affordable, and kōhā to our wānanga space and haka tutor.
Funding has also provided advertising flags and a marquee, which Shane says will help grow the kaupapa and “put the teams in the light.”
He says the teams are grateful for all the funding and general support they’ve received from whānau.
“So far, it’s been about taking small steps and building on our strengths but ultimately, we’re looking to take ourselves off to the National Māori Rugby League tournament that is held in Rotorua every year. That’s our next challenge.
“We want everyone to know the Māori teams are back and we’re here to stay. We’re not an overnight sensation. And we encourage anyone out there who wants to learn more about their culture in a relaxed sporting environment, to jump on our kaupapa. Haere mai, no matter who you are. It’s all about learning about ourselves and our heritage.”