All Stars 2021
JD - NZMRL Chairman
JAN 18, 2021
The New Zealand Māori Rugby League is relieved the annual NRL All Stars indigenous games scheduled for Townsville in North Queensland are going ahead, but also a little disappointed there have been restrictions applied due to the covid pandemic, said chairman John Devonshire.
Firstly, we all have a regard and responsibility for people’s health and safety and wellbeing - this is paramount. With this, criteria has been stipulated by the NRL that all players and football staff must be Australian based. We, the NZMRL Board, can appreciate their concerns but really feel for our wahine toa here in Aotearoa. Our wāhine are a huge part of our Māori rugby league whānau and they deserve their time to shine, quite apart from the fact that we have some world class players. They along with their coaching staff led by Māori stalwart Rusty Matua will not have the opportunity to be part of a kaupapa they believe in, and are extremely passionate about. Also given the series is level at one apiece - Māori’s victorious in Melbourne in 2019, Indigenous claiming victory on the Gold Coast last year - this was an opportunity to forge ahead.
The coaching staff for our two teams will see Parramatta assistant David Kidwell return along with Ben Gardner from the West Tigers to lead the men. Keith Hanley, from the Tigers, will head the wahine toa team assisted by Lisa Fiaola from the North Sydney Bears. Keith was New Zealand’s leading coach before heading to Australia to further his career. He has tremendous pedigree in Auckland with various clubs, including the Akarana Falcons and has been part of our Māori Rugby league kaupapa previously, with our wahine toa in Sydney 2018. Lisa is of Nga Puhi descent, and has established herself in Australia. She is equally adept in both football codes in Australia and was recently named to assist Ricky Henry with the Kiwi Ferns. She came highly recommended by the NZRL high performance manager, Motu Tony.
Former Kiwi and Māori representative Mark Horo will manage the men’s side while Gold Coast based Mel Rutene will manage our wahine toa squad. Both have a long history with Māori rugby league and know our Māori way.
Squads are being finalized in the upcoming weeks. Ticket sales are going extremely well, with the new cowboy’s stadium in Townsville expected to be a sell-out.
It’s a tremendous occasion, a wonderful initiative and a real celebration of culture. With no NRL 9’s and no world club challenge matches this year, it is a real bonus and an exciting way to open the 2021 season… we can’t wait!