Even though NZ Maori sides had played in 1908, 1909 and 1922, it was on the 6th day of October 1934 that a Maori Trust Board gathered together in Huntly to form the original New Zealand Maori Rugby League Control Board. Contributing to this formation were prominent Maori from both a sporting and business capacity.
The original board members included:
The first chairman being Jim Rukatai and the first patron King Koroki.
With the appointment of King Koroki as patron, this signalled the relationship between the Kingitanga (Kingship) movement and NZ Maori Rugby League. The values and principles of the Kingitanga are what guides and directs the NZMRL even to this present day. King Tuheitia is the current Patron following on from his mother Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu. As kaitiaki of the Kingitanga, Waikato–Tainui has become the ancestral home of Maori Rugby League. When a NZ Maori team left our shores to play overseas, their last night in camp would always be at Turangawaewae marae in Ngaruawahia. In recent times, Waahi Paa in Huntly has accommodated our NZ Maori Rugby League teams.
The NZMRL kaupapa has been driven by prominent Maori rugby league administrators who in most cases have come from the playing ranks, people like Puti Tipene Watene (Steve), Tom (Lummy) Newton, Robert Tukiri, Cathy Friend, Richard Bolton, Len Pene, Cameron Bell and Howie Tamati.
Puti Tipene Watene (Steve)
(Represented Auckland, North Island, and NZ from 1930 -1937 Captain of the NZ Kiwi’s in 1936 & 1937 against England & Australia. He also captained the NZ Maori side in 1937) Following the game in 1937 against England at Ngaruawahia, Watene quoted "In this rugby league game of ours, there is no room for the sniveller, the squealer or the pointer, and be he or she an administrator, official, player, he or she must display a sense of impartiality, and a degree of tolerance to all who have contributed to maintaining this modern brand of football. As a Maori, a great deal of my efforts are taken up with the propagation of the game among my people and the playing of this England v Maori game was a long cherished ideal. My friends when you return to your homes take back the good wishes of a people who responded without equivocation to the stirring call of the Mother Country. Take back also the memory that in this vast British Empire of ours the Maori is included in the term New Zealander."
The position perhaps can best be summed up in the words of our great Maori statesman Sir James Carroll “Tatou. Tatou – we are one people”. Importantly Watene added 'the present time demands more understanding and more appreciation and perhaps a fuller recognition of the contribution of the Maori people towards establishing the rugby league game. He concluded with the following Maori quotation “Maru kai atu manu kai ngohengohe – Mutual generosity includes mutual kindness”. Steve Watene went on to become a prominent political figure within the NZ Labour Party and played a huge role in the development of Maori Affairs at government level and will be remembered for his substantial contribution to Maori Rugby League.
In 1968, the Watene whanau donated the “Steve Watene Memorial Shield” for the outstanding New Zealand player of the year. This has since been replaced by the NZRL for another option. The Steve Watene Memorial shield is now the Taonga that is presented at our NZMRL National Tuakana Tournament, to the winning team in the Rohe section. Some of his whakaro is still very relevant to this day.
Taken at the 2015 NZMRL Tuakana Tournament. Steve Watene's whanau members attended and presented the Taonga to the 2015 Winners of the Rohe section. His mokopuna also formed a whanau team and participated in the tournament under "Watene Whanau'