Like many coaches who take up a short-term post pulling together and training players for important
games, David Kidwell has his work cut out for him.
The Parramatta Eels assistant coach, took on the role of Māori All Stars coach this week and is now
checking player availability for the match against an Indigenous All Stars side on February 22 in 2020.
It won’t be easy.
In an ever expanding league season, some players will be on extended leave between seasons, or
committed to trials, the NRL Club 9s in Perth a week before the All Stars match and the World Club
Challenge between the Roosters and St. Helens in the UK on the same day.
But Kidwell, of Ngāti Whātua descent, is quick to name the key factor that will unify his players
within two months: Māori culture.
“Our culture is unique and despite everyone’s different backgrounds this will be the framework to
bring us together,” he said. “Even a mihi to team mates will help break the ice and start building that
Selection will be managed by Kidwell, NZ Māori Rugby League Chair, John Devonshire, Team
Manager, Mark Horo, and former NZ Māori Resident Coach, Daryn Pirini.
Meanwhile NRL has also come up with a campaign where fans can vote for the players they think
should feature in the men's fixture (https://www.nrl.com/all-stars/voting).
Mark Deweerd, who leads NRL’s Indigenous strategy says it allows fans to influence the way coaches
think and the type of football they'd like to see played. Their preferred teams will be provided to
Kidwell and Indigenous coach Laurie Daley and used to make up the final squads of 20 based on the
balance of players across the various positions.
Kidwell will have to cram that into his already short and crowded schedule.
The team should be confirmed by the end of this month. Then both Australian and New Zealand
based players will attend an Auckland training camp in the New Year. In the week before the game
there are medical checks, jersey fittings, sponsor appearances, media calls, even a workshop to deal
with a player’s state of mind.
But Kidwell is excited about the challenge and the talent of potential candidates like Dane Gagai
(Ngāti Pikiao), Kalyn Ponga (Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi), James Tamou (Muaupoko & Ngā Rauru) and
Benji Marshall (Ngāi Tūhoe).
“Benji was probably Kalyn’s idol when he was a kid. People want to see these experienced and rising
stars playing together. So I’m looking forward to it, and building on this proud indigenous legacy.”