8 July 2024

Teenage back rower Leka Halasima was called up to make his NRL debut in the One New Zealand Warriors’ 18th-round encounter with the in-form Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs at Accor Stadium in Sydney on Saturday.

The 18-year-olds late promotion into the game-day 19 came as a result of captain Tohu Harris being ruled out indefinitely with a chronic wrist injury.

In 37 minutes of game time, the debutante ran for 108 metres from 7 hit-ups, making 1 line break, 5 tackle breaks, and 9 tackles, falling just short of scoring his first try in the NRL.

8 July 2024

On Sunday Kiwi #755 Rotorua native Jared Waerea-Hargreaves became the Sydney Roosters most capped player of all time with 307 games, coming up with 143 run metres, six stitches in his head and a sin binning as the Roosters climbed to third on the ladder.

The Roosters ensured favourite son Waerea-Hargreaves celebrated his milestone game in style by downing the Dragons 42-12 at Allianz Stadium.

Fittingly it was Waerea-Hargreaves laying the platform the opening try with a storming run that finished just short of the tryline before Sam Walker grubbered expertly for Victor Radley to follow through and score.

Come the 17th minute and the Roosters went down to 12 men when milestone man Waerea-Hargreaves was sin binned for a dangerous tackle but the Dragons were unable to capitalise despite having a number of tackles inside the red zone.

Post-win he shared, “It’s a really proud moment for myself, my team, and my family.

“I’m really proud and honoured to be part of something special and to be part of this proud club.”

2024 has proven to be a momentous year in Waerea-Hargreaves’ career as he celebrated playing his 300th NRL game earlier in March.

Waerea-Hargreaves will venture to the UK following this NRL season after signing a one-year deal with Hull KR for the 2025 Betfred Super League season.

1 July 2024

As seen on northernswords.co.nz

Rugby League Northland is thrilled to announce the launch of the Rugby League Northland Academy, an elite development programme for youth in Northland, in association with the One New Zealand Warriors.

Rugby League Northland CEO Robbie Johnson met with the One NZ Warriors General Manager of Recruitment, Development, and Pathways, Andrew McFadden, to officialise the partnership this week.

This ground-breaking initiative is set to revolutionise rugby league and development in the region, offering young athletes unprecedented opportunities in Whangarei, the Mid-North and the Far North, to hone their skills, enhance their athletic performance, and pave the way for a bright future in the sport.

The Rugby League Northland Academy aims to identify and nurture local talent, providing a structured pathway for young players to progress from grassroots to professional levels.

By partnering with the One NZ Warriors, the Academy will leverage the expertise, resources, and support of New Zealand’s premier NRL side. This collaboration ensures that our young athletes receive top-tier coaching, mentorship, and exposure to the highest standards of rugby league.

The Rugby League Northland Academy is committed to creating a clear and achievable pathway for our young athletes. Through regular assessments, feedback, and opportunities to compete at higher levels, participants will have the chance to showcase their talents and aspire to represent the Northern Swords and beyond.

This partnership with the One NZ Warriors opens doors to potential scholarships, trials, and professional contracts, turning dreams into reality for our aspiring rugby league stars.

Rugby League Northland and the One NZ Warriors are united in their commitment to developing the next generation of rugby league talent. We look forward to embarking on this exciting journey with our community and celebrating the growth and achievements of our young athletes.

Read more on northernswords.co.nz

20 May 2024

The Warriors’ heroic 22-20 victory over the Panthers on Sunday will go down as one of the club’s most impressive triumphs and an unforgettable one for 21-year-old centre Ali Leiataua.

The nephew and namesake of the legendary Ali Lauitiiti, young Leiataua put the name Ali back on the One New Zealand Warriors’ first-grade team sheet for the first time in 19 years when he made his NRL debut last year in the club’s 15th-round clash.

Last week’s contest against the Roosters saw multiple injuries to the Warriors including frontline centres Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rocco Berry who were both sidelined ahead of Magic Round, giving Leiataua the opportunity to make his second NRL appearance.

“Some tough shoes to fill… lucky the boys around me had my back and it was good to get the win out here in Magic Round,” shared the young talent post-match.

With the Panthers up by six at the break, the sin-binning of Isaah Yeo three minutes into the second half for a professional foul was the first turning point and on the very next Leiataua crossed for his first try at NRL level.

To complement his try Leiataua produced 105 run metres, 2 line breaks, and 11 tackles in the nail-biter which eventually saw the Warriors hang on to a 2-point lead and claim the win of the round.

In the club’s system since he was 14, Leiataua was a foundation member of the One New Zealand Warriors’ first SG Ball Cup under-18 side in 2020.

Before the Warriors stage, the born-and-raised South Aucklander was a standout in age-group competitions throughout his younger years earning numerous New Zealand Rugby League representative selections.

The Papatoetoe Panthers junior featured in the NZRL 2019 Resident 16s and 2020 New Zealand 18s Schools national sides, as well as Auckland’s National 20s team in 2021.

Most recently Leiataua has been in outstanding form for the club’s New South Wales Cup side throughout the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

In 2023 following his NRL debut and exceptional NSW Cup performances, Leiataua was selected for the first-ever Kiwis A team who went on to beat Tonga A in the inaugural Pacific Championships.

18 May 2024

Raised in South Auckland’s Ōtara, 22-year-old Josiah Karapani made his NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos last knight.

Reece Walsh’s knee injury opened the door for Karapani to make his long-awaited debut, with the young gun starting in the centres for Brisbane in Magic Round after Selwyn Cobbo switched to fullback.

The young debutante shared, “I only got the call-up yesterday, but I had to take it [the opportunity]

“It means a lot especially having my family behind me watching me play for the first time since I moved to Australia, it’s the best feeling.”

An Otahuhu Leopards junior, Karapani was a standout player in the Auckland Rugby League age-group competitions throughout his younger years, earning Counties Manukau and New Zealand Rugby League representative selections.

Karapani participated in the 2019 NZRL Talent Development Programme, then featured in the first-ever 18s New Zealand Clubs team in 2020.

Josiah Karapani playing for the New Zealand 18s Clubs team v New Zealand 18s Schools team, 2020.

 

The talented back was first scooped up by the Warriors for their SG Ball Cup squad during the COVID pandemic in 2020, before making the move across the ditch to the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

From 2021-2023 he solidified himself as a mainstay in the Rabbitohs SG Ball Cup squad, eventually moving up into the Jersey Flegg and New South Wales Cup squads before the age of 21.

He came extremely close to making his debut with the Sydney club, if not for an untimely serious illness.

Joining the Broncos in the recent off-season, Karapani initially signed on a train-and-trial contract but was upgraded into the club’s top 30 squad after impressing in the pre-season.

Karapani has been plying his trade for feeder team Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup, crossing for six tries in eight appearances so far this season.

He was due to enjoy a week off with the Bears on a bye, but has now achieved a career dream on one of the biggest stages in the game.

Coach Walters noted how excited he was for Karapani ahead of his debut at Magic Round this Friday, citing how the youngster had earned his chance after impressing in reserve grade.

“He’s really accelerated his form over recent weeks, he’s got speed and a great attitude and deserves his opportunity,” Walters said.

15 May 2024

As seen on smh.com.au

Sydney Roosters fans should be thanking Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for helping deliver Joey Manu to Bondi Junction.

Two of the nicest Kiwis you will ever meet were set to go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium, completing the circle on a remarkable rugby league story, but RTS has succumbed to a hamstring injury and Manu is out after suffering a head knock.

Tuivasa-Sheck played on the wing when the Roosters won the premiership in 2013. He then joined the Warriors in 2016 then switched to Super Rugby in 2022. He went on to play three Tests for the All Blacks, then returned to the Warriors this year.

Tuivasa-Sheck, now 30, but somehow still looks 17, revealed on Monty Betham’s Once A Warrior podcast late last year how the Warriors had shown him clips of Manu, the way he was given a licence to roam in the centres, and how that was what they had in mind for him.

Tuivasa-Sheck liked what he saw. Maybe Warriors supporters should be sending Manu a little thanks for helping seal the deal with “RTS”.

Anyways, back to the story about Tuivasa-Sheck and how he put Manu on the Roosters’ radar.

You have to go back to 2011 in Auckland, where the New Zealand Rugby League National Secondary Schools Tournament was underway. Tuivasa-Sheck was the rugby star leading Otahuhu College, who went on to win the whole thing.

Manu who was only 15, three years younger than Tuivasa-Sheck – was a reserve for Tokoroa High School, a lowly bush team with his father, Nooroa, one of the assistant coaches.

According to Manu Junior and Senior, there were rugby league scouts everywhere that week, just to catch a glimpse of Tuivasa-Sheck. Manu had heard about Tuivasa-Sheck, but was blown away by what he actually witnessed in the flesh.

Nooroa recalled Tokoroa being shunted to one of the back fields, well out of sight, when a player went down injured. Joey got the call to warm up.

 

Joey Manu (far left) and the Tokoroa High School team of 2011 at the New Zealand Rugby League National Secondary Schools Tournament, that changed everything.

 

“We were playing against Southern Cross, Joe was a reserve, he was only 15, we had an injury, we tried to find him, and he was kicking the ball with one of the coach’s grandsons,” Nooroa recalls.

“So Joe dawdles over, we sub him in for a centre, he comes on, the game is tight, and the ball comes to him. We were all like, ‘Joe, just don’t drop the ball’. But he dummies, beats the centre, then steps the fullback and offloads. He did those three things, had one more run, then we brought him off. He was on for about eight minutes.

“Then a scout who was in town for Roger, Peter O’Sullivan, came up to us after that game and said, ‘We think he’s got a future’. We were like, ‘Joe? He doesn’t even play league, he plays rugby’. They told us they were keen to fly him over to Sydney for games, and we thought they were kidding.

“He was doing well in rugby. League was played on a Sunday where we lived, and Sundays were for church. We didn’t believe the Roosters until the contract was emailed. That’s when we realised they were serious.”

 

Joey Manu (back right) with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (front right) in 2014. Also pictured is Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

 

Manu told this masthead during the week that had it not been for the interest in Tuivasa-Sheck, maybe, just maybe, he would not have been given the chance to spend more than a decade at the Roosters, where he has won two premierships and become a fan favourite.

“I’m glad they all came over to watch him [Tuivasa-Sheck] because I ended up getting picked up, too,” Manu says. “I actually remember that game I played at that tournament. I was up against big Islander boys. I was scared as, and I was as skinny as.

“I also remember watching Roger. Even when we got home, he was all over the news. He was the man. I used to record the games and watch his step. It was crazy to watch.”

Manu would fly to Sydney on school holidays and at Christmas. In 2013, he played more than half a dozen games in the Roosters’ SG Ball side. Nooroa would drive more than two hours to Auckland in the early hours of Friday, sometimes a Thursday night, put his son on a plane to Sydney where he would train at Matraville that night, play Saturday, then fly home Sunday.

 

Joey Manu with parents Darnel and Nooroa in 2013.

 

In those early years, Manu played with Tuivasa-Sheck’s younger brother, Johnny. The pair, along with Latrell and Shaq Mitchell, as well as Angus Crichton, were part of the 2014 SG Ball side that took out the title.

“When I was in the under-20s, we’d train against Roger and the first team,” Manu says. “We’d get smashed. We were basically tackling bags for them.”

Two years later and Joey went on to make his NRL debut for the Roosters in 2016 – and the rest is history.

Read more on smh.com.au

1 May 2024

As seen on warriors.kiwi

Exciting second rower Jacob Laban ended something of a drought when he became One New Zealand Warrior #286 on NRL debut against South Sydney last Saturday.

Not since 2016 had a player with Wellington connections made his club debut with the Warriors.

That was Warrior #206 Issac Luke who, while Taranaki born and bred, had strong links with rugby league in the Capital through attending St Bernard’s College and Wainuiomata High School as well as playing for the Wellington Orcas at a junior level.

Now Laban, from one of Wellington’s best-known rugby league families, has added a new chapter.

While born in Samoa, Laban is Wellington through and through. Another St Bernard’s College product, he played for the Randwick Kingfishers before coming into the One New Zealand Warriors’ pathways system.

He moved to Auckland where he was initially signed in 2021 – along with Zyon Maiu’u – while finishing his schooling at Kelston Boys’ High School. Jacob’s younger brother Dezman, also a back rower, is in the Warriors’ Harold Matthews Cup (under-17) side for Sunday’s week one finals clash against Parramatta.

The Wellington influence on the Warriors began on opening night when two players with links with the Capital were there on March 10, 1995 – Warrior #8 Gavin Hill and #11 Stephen Kearney.

Players considered for this exercise qualify in a number of ways – by birth or living in the region at some point.

Former One New Zealand Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman, for instance, spent two years in the area when his father transferred on business; Hoffman junior attended Hutt Intermediate School and played age group representative rugby union during his time in Wellington.

Marc Ellis was born in Wellington and educated at Wellington College before his move to the University of Otago while Auckland-born Sione Faumuina went to Rongotai College.

 

WELLINGTON WARRIORS 1995-2024

#8 GAVIN HILL (Oriental Rongotai, Hutt Old Boys rugby union)
1995-1996, 14 games, 9 goals
#11 STEPHEN KEARNEY (Kapiti Bears, Randwick Kingfishers)
1995-1998, 79 games, 11 tries
#19 SYD ERU (Upper Hutt Tigers)
1995-1999, 59 games, 15 tries
#26 RICHIE BLACKMORE (Poneke rugby union)
1995-1996 & 2001, 35 games, 13 tries
#29 MARC ELLIS (Wellington College)
1996-1998, 36 games, 11 tries, 29 goals, 1 field goal
#54 ZANE CLARKE (Randwick Kingfishers)
1998, 5 games
#63 PETER LEWIS (Upper Hutt Tigers)
1999, 11 games, 1 try
#78 PAUL WHATUIRA (Wainuiomata Lions)
2000, 5 games
#98 SIONE FAUMUINA (Rongotai College)
2002-2006, 88 games, 18 tries, 33 goals
#106 VINCE MELLARS (Wainuiomata Lions, Petone Panthers)
2003-2004, 7 games, 1 try
#125 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels, University Hunters)
2005-2018, 301 games, 63 tries
#142 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
2008-2017, 212 games, 17 tries
#162 ALEHANA MARA (St George Dragons)
2010-2012, 16 games
#175 SAM LOUSI (Hurricanes rugby union)
2012-2014, 3 games
#180 NGANI LAUMAPE (Hurricanes rugby union)
2013-2014, 30 games, 11 tries
#183 CHARLIE GUBB (University Hunters)
2013-2017, 40 games 1 try
#195 RYAN HOFFMAN (Hutt Intermediate School)
2015-2017, 60 games, 11 tries, 1 goal
#206 ISSAC LUKE (St Bernard’s College, Wainuiomata High School)
2016-2019, 78 games, 13 tries, 57 goals
#286 JACOB LABAN (Randwick Kingfishers)
2024, 1 game

26 April 2024

20-year-old Zyon Maiu’u from West Auckland made his NRL debut last night for the One New Zealand Warriors’, in their narrow loss to the Gold Coast Titans at GoMedia Mt. Smart Stadium.

Coming on in the 57th minute, the young prop/second rower instantly made an impact in the middle with his strong up-the-guts running style. In just 13 minutes on the field Maiu’u took seven runs for a total of 77 run metres, 39 of which were post-contact.

His intensity visibly lifted the energy for the Warriors who were battling against the clock to make a late comeback against the leading Titans.

Maiu’u started off in the Warriors 2020 S. G. Ball Cup squad, before signing a three-year contract with the club in 2021.

Upon his signing, Peter O’Sullivan Warriors recruitment manager praised Maiu’u’s “competitiveness, skill and toughness and ability to play edge and middle equally as well as the other”.

Since 2023 he has been a mainstay in the Warriors New South Wales Cup squad having played 32 matches, until earning the call-up to the NRL side this week.

A Te Atatu Roosters junior, Maiu’u featured in the 2020 NZRL New Zealand Schools representative side and the following year played in the NZRL National 20s Competition with the Auckland Blue team, going on to be named Tournament MVP.

With only a first small glimpse of his talent and impact seen on the NRL stage last night, young Zyon Maiu’u is definitely one to watch.

19 April 2024

As seen on nrl.com

Melbourne Storm forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona has dismissed reports of a rift with coach Craig Bellamy after making a successful return from injury in Thursday night’s win over the Roosters.

The 115-kilogram behemoth injured his hamstring early in the pre-season and battled multiple setbacks in the recovery process throughout a frustrating summer.

The injury struggles came as speculation mounted over his future in Melbourne, with reports suggesting the New Zealand international had fallen out with Bellamy.

Asofa-Solomona, however, has put the speculation to bed and declared his desire to see out his current contract through to its conclusion in 2027.

“I put in a lot of work in the off-season so to have rumours thrown around like that and to have my name get thrown through the mud was just wrong,” Asofa-Solomona said.

“I wanted to correct it but the people close to me knew the truth. They said don’t worry about it, don’t listen to the noise.

“I just control what I can control. I can’t control what people say on the outside, what I can do is play good footy and let my footy do the talking.”

Asofa-Solomona ran for 70 metres and made 17 tackles in 32 minutes on Thursday night in his return to the NRL.

The Storm ultimately prevailed 18-12 in a tense clash in which both sides struggled to find their groove.

Asofa-Solomona’s performance came after two appearances in reserve grade for the North Sydney Bears.

While there was no rift, Bellamy did challenge him to be better during the off-season and was pleased with the forward’s outing.

“I thought he did a good job,” Bellamy said after Thursday’s game.

“There’s a little bit around his defence that we were a little bit concerned about but he knew what that was. He made a conscious effort tonight to improve that and he did.

“He carried the ball real strong for us. They [did] a pretty good job to handle him like they did. The real improvement was in a couple of those defensive actions that we need from him to be more consistent.

“He did it tonight and hopefully as we go on he’ll get more and more game time and be a real benefit for us.”

Asofa-Solomona knows he has a long way to go before he returns to the form that made him among the most damaging forwards in the game.

He’s confident, however, he’s on the right track and views Thursday’s match as a stepping stone.

Emotions will be high next week when the Storm host the Rabbitohs on Anzac Day, with Asofa-Solomona eager to lead his team to their third-straight victory.

“I had a good talk with the coaches [in the off-season],” he said. “It’s about applying the energy in the right place for the team. I feel like last year I let my team down being too aggressive, making silly errors of judgement, trying to get into scuffles.

“It’s not part of the game and it’s not part of my game anymore. I’m trying to rub it out, trying to do what’s right for the team.”

As seen on nrl.com

19 April 2024

As seen on nrl.com

Jesse Bromwich is proof that we don’t always get it right when it comes to defining what makes a marquee player in sport.

That term is derived from the Hollywood-style names that used to adorn cinemas and theatres to grab people’s attention and lure them inside. It’s the type of stuff a no-nonsense prop from south Auckland has little hope of ever living up to.

But what he lacks in ability to draw a crowd – or in most cases even be noticed in one – Jesse makes up for with his knack for attracting people that do have star power.

In that way he has been the marquee player for a Dolphins club who have been accused of failing to sign one so far.

“We will be indebted to Jesse forever,” Dolphins CEO Terry Reader tells NRL.com.

“The first thing Wayne [Bennett] said to me and Peter O’Sullivan when we hung up from talking to Jesse when we were recruiting him was ‘there’s our captain, boys’.

That legacy continues to grow now in season 15, which Jesse says will definitely be his last, and as of this Friday night it’ll include achieving something nobody in the game’s 116-year history has ever done before – starting 300 games at prop.

Through the opening 12 games of his NRL career, all of which began from the bench, Jesse used to watch players like Brett White, Adam Blair and Jeff Lima excel in the aggression and energy of the opening exchanges.

He was happy just to be playing, but being a passenger for the first 20 minutes didn’t feel right.

“I used to burn up so much energy sitting there. Up and pacing around, just wanting to get out there, and I always thought ‘man, it’d be good to start, just to get out there and straight into it’,” Jesse says.

Since then he’s managed to do it more than any other front-rower in the history game, with Friday night’s encounter against the Eels at TIO Stadium in Darwin marking his 300th starting appearance at prop in the NRL.

While the hunger was always there, Jesse credits the nine weeks he spent in camp with the Kiwis back at the 2013 World Cup – in a forward group that included players like Simon Mannering – for making him embrace what it was to lead from the front from the very first minute every week.

In the 238 club games he’s played since that tournament, he’s failed to start just twice.

Having watched the now 34-year-old all the way through his career, former Storm assistant and long-time Kiwis coach Michael Maguire says what makes him such a great starting prop is simple.

“You always know what you’ll get from Jesse and that he can handle all the intensities from the start,” Maguire says.

“You know that the first 20 minutes, especially in a Test match, will be flat out and intense and you know Jesse can handle those moments.”

Growing up Jesse got used to being knocked back by Auckland rep selectors, who with the exception of his final year at high school, knocked him back for every age-group team.

On one particular occasion when Jesse was 16, his dad Mike decided enough was enough and took matters into his own hands.

“They had four different games at this trial day and they wouldn’t even give him a run. He was pretty disheartened,” Mike says.

“Straight after that I signed him up at the gym. I’d get him up at 5.30 in the morning, every day I’d drag him and Kenny out of bed, no mucking around.

“The next year Jesse went back and he was killing it, it made all the difference.”

With nothing much happening in rugby league at home, Jesse headed to Orange, New South Wales after high school seeking better work opportunities and to play in the Group 10 competition.

A move to Melbourne to join the rest of his family, who had relocated for Mike’s work, ended up putting him in front of Storm selectors, thanks to a request from Kenny, who already been signed at this stage, to let his brother come and train.

In a somewhat cruel twist of fate at the time Jesse ended up taking the U-20 spot Melbourne had reserved for his younger brother in 2009, and while it delayed Kenny’s advancement by another 12 months, it also marked the emergence of Jesse as an NRL prospect and he never looked back.

At every step since he’s approached rugby league in a way that reflects his working-class roots.

Growing up in south Auckland, both he and Kenny saw their parents work hard – Mike laying drains and later working in an aluminum factory and Alex making a living at a local food distribution plant.

The family unit was and still is incredibly tight, evidenced by both boys insisting on playing together throughout their career and the decision of their parents, along with sister Paula, to relocate to Brisbane from Melbourne in order to be closer to them in recent times.

Cowboys prop Jordan McLean, who spent five seasons playing alongside Jesse and Kenny at the Storm, says those factors helped create dream teammates who have no ego, and he believes it’s a big reason why Jesse has become such a sought-after leader.

“The way he got into an NRL system is not the normal way of getting into a team, so he’s always been very humble in his approach to it,” McLean says.

“If something needs to be done he puts his hand up.

“He’s from humble beginnings and comes from a hard-working family, he’s been brought up well by his old boy and old girl.”

“In a way I’m a bit happy that he’s finishing,” Mike tells NRL.com when asked about his oldest boys’ looming retirement.

“It’s been a real long journey, we’ve been through so much, and I think Jesse is ready to finish.

There will be plenty of special occasions to mark over the next five months or so before the boots are hung up, including a Round 25 return to Melbourne.

But at the top of that list will be the final game on New Zealand soil for the Bromwich brothers together, which barring a finals match-up against the Warriors on that side of the Tasman, will come in Round 12.

It has always been a special trip for the proud Kiwis and a chance to celebrate with their whānau (family) still living in New Zealand.

“Every time they run out in games against the Warriors it brings a tear to my eye,” Mike says.

“It’s definitely always been special for them to play in New Zealand. To catch up with the old coaches and some of their friends, it means a lot to them, they still love the place.

“It’ll be an emotional one to watch for the last time.”

But first, there’s a more memories and history to be made.

Read more on nrl.com

17 April 2024

As seen on warriors.kiwi

Kiwi captain and powerhouse Penrith prop James Fisher-Harris has signed a four-year deal to join the One New Zealand Warriors from next season.

The 28-year-old Northlander has reached agreement with Penrith to be released from the last two seasons of his contract on compassionate grounds so he can move back to New Zealand to be closer to his family.

A 183-game NRL veteran, Fisher-Harris has been at the forefront of Penrith’s run of three consecutive premiership wins in 2021, 2022 and 2023 while he also played in the 2020 grand final.

He led the Kiwis to a record 30-0 win over the Kangaroos in the Pacific Championships final last year culminating in him winning the Golden Boot player of the year award along with the New Zealand Rugby League’s player of the year accolade.

“We’re absolutely delighted to be able to sign James,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George.

“It’s a huge signing for us, undoubtedly one of the biggest in our club’s history.

“To be able to add a player of his calibre and standing to our squad is a tremendous boost for 2025 and beyond. He’s such a highly-respected player and leader.”

One New Zealand Warriors head coach Andrew Webster and Fisher-Harris will be reunited after working together when Webster was an assistant coach at Penrith for the grand final-winning seasons in 2021 and 2022.

“It’s going to be fantastic having James with us. He’s one of the game’s elite players, a super tough forward who sets and demands the highest standards,” said Webster.

“I loved working with him at the Panthers and we really look forward to bringing him into our system from next season. He’ll add terrific value to our roster, to the club overall and he’ll also be invaluable as a mentor for our young players coming through.”

Fisher-Harris, born in Kohukohu in the Far North, made his NRL debut with Penrith in 2016 followed by his Kiwi Test debut later the same year. Rising to become Kiwi captain last year, he has played a total of 15 Tests. He has also captained the Māori All Stars.

“James has such standing in the game. He’s a player with real mana who commands respect on and off the field,” said One New Zealand Warriors general manager recruitment, pathways and development Andrew McFadden.

George said the One New Zealand Warriors won’t be making further comment about signing Fisher-Harris out of respect to the commitment he has to Penrith for the rest of this season.

Read more on warriors.kiwi

5 April 2024

As seen on nrl.com

His career didn’t start there, and for a long time recently didn’t look like finishing there either, but it feels right that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be wearing a Warriors jersey as he celebrates 200 NRL games this Saturday.

Players like ‘RTS’ – who when it’s all said and done will probably be regarded as the best Kiwi talent of his generation – don’t become available too often, and when they do it sets off a feeding frenzy between clubs, with plenty having tried in vain to lure him to their shores over the past decade-or-so.

So how is it that where so many others failed, the Warriors succeeded not once, but on two separate occasions, in signing the rugby league virtuoso?

Back in 2016 when they first achieved it they were effectively righting a wrong which had long irked their fanbase, signing the then 21-year-old superstar they had let the Roosters steal from under their nose as a teenager.

A second raid last year to bring Tuivasa-Sheck back after he’d left for rugby union in mid-2021 – following a successful six-season stint at Go Media Stadium – was even more audacious and saw the Warriors beat out a host of NRL and global rugby union clubs to secure his signature.

Home again now, on a three-year deal that almost certainly means it’s for good this time, there’s a sense of relief and pride across the board in Auckland that the fullback-turned-centre will be celebrating his latest career milestone as a Warrior.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in bringing Roger back,” Andrew McFadden, the Warriors recruitment boss who helped secure Tuivasa-Sheck’s signature for both his stints at the club, tells NRL.com.

“But it’s terrific that he’s back in our team. We’re certainly glad that he’s here and that we can celebrate that 200 with him.

“From those 200 games, 199 of them will have been first-class games. He rarely has a bad game.”

This week Tuivasa-Sheck’s teammates Tohu Harris and Jazz Tevaga each recounted meetings with their friend prior to him signing back with the Warriors, which began to sow the seeds for a return that only months earlier had seemed highly unlikely.

In the background the Warriors had been persistently knocking at the door, staying in regular contact with Tuivasa-Sheck’s management team about a potential return, despite being met with various versions of ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

Eventually they got the sit down they’d been after though and just minutes into it McFadden realised their dream was a real chance of becoming a reality.

“I was at the original meeting when we met and Roger’s body language – he got very excited very quickly,” McFadden said.

“It was after that meeting that I went ‘oh, we’re a chance here’.

“It’s funny with Roger, I know he’s very ambitious and wanted to be an All Black, and he achieved that, but I always thought that his game didn’t suit union.

“His game is built on effort over time and I’m not sure that union sort of allows that with the stoppages. When fatigue comes in, that’s when Roger really comes into his own. His power, his strength, his endurance.

“That’s why I always had it in my mind that he might return, and I knew that with Andrew Webster here he’d be able to put something together that would really excite Roger.”

The Warriors acknowledged Tuivasa-Sheck with a presentation on Wednesday that included a screening of what Tevaga described as a “20-minute-long highlight reel”, featuring some of the best moments from his 11 seasons in the NRL so far.

Afterwards Webster said it was clear how much it meant to the 30-year-old to be reaching the milestone as a Warrior.

“He wanted to come back to his hometown team… Roger was like ‘yeah, I want to come here, I like the vision, I like where the place is going. If I’m going to play rugby league I want to play at the Warriors’,” Webster said.

“He’s had a great journey with lots of life experiences.

“To put an All Blacks jersey on, Kiwis jersey, Warriors jersey, be at the Roosters and win a grand final; he’s had a great career.

Read more on nrl.com

5 April 2024

As seen on qrl.com

It was just two weeks ago that towering teenage prop Ben Te Kura put in what Karmichael Hunt believes was the best performance of his career so far.

Last night the young forward made his NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos in a narrow loss against the Melbourne Storm. He featured in the Kiwis A squad in the recent 2023 Pacific Championships, playing in the Queensland Cup since 2022.

Despite the Brisbane side’s loss, Te Kura’s debut was made sweeter when he crossed for his first-ever try in the NRL.

Hunt, who coaches Te Kura for the Souths Logan Magpies Hostplus Cup team, has watched the 19-year-old develop over the past two years, not only maturing as a person but starting to understand his body and his strength more.

And in the Magpies’ Round 3 clash with the Norths Devils – Te Kura’s former club – Hunt saw him go to another level.

“He’s only three games in (to season 2024) but I especially thought his second half against Norths was some of the best footy he has played,” Hunt said.

“It’s like he’s realised his own strength and what he can do with that body of his.

“He was running really powerfully and causing a lot of havoc for the defence.”

Te Kura – who stands at 205 centimetres – started playing rugby league at the age of six for the Redcliffe Dolphins, staying with the club throughout all his junior years.

When he signed with the Brisbane Broncos, he moved to the Norths Devils where he played Mal Meninga Cup and made his Hostplus Cup debut in 2022.

He played four Cup games in his initial year before switching to Souths Logan last season where he donned the jersey 20 times in a massive year for the Magpies, under the tutelage of Hunt for the first time.

Hunt said from what he has seen, Te Kura is ready for the occasion and knows Broncos coach Kevin Walters would not have named him if he didn’t think he could handle a tough Storm outfit.

“He’s still a teenager but he’s matured quite a bit over the last couple of years, especially when it comes to his footy detail and effort areas,” Hunt said.

“Last year was his first full season of Cup and he had a really great year. As the year went on, he got better and better and by the end he was our best middle.

“When he actually runs through the line and causes havoc with his power, he’s almost unstoppable.

Hunt – who also made his NRL debut as a teenager with the Broncos – said the only job Te Kura had to do was to be himself.

While he admitted the Storm is one of the most daunting teams in the competition, he had no doubt the Wavell State High School product would bring much-needed impact from Brisbane’s bench.

“A trip to Melbourne is as hard as it gets for a 50-gamer, let alone someone making their debut,” Hunt said ahead of Te Kura’s maiden game last evening

“One thing that can be rest assured though when you’re making your debut is you have a team full of mates that will back you up and look after you.

“I know Benny will be feeling nervous and excited as well.

“My advice for him would be the same advice I’d give everyone else: it’s just another game of footy.

“The quicker you realise that and settle into the occasion, all you can do is what you’ve been called in to do.”

Read more on qrl.com

As seen on nrl.com

Merely hearing Rocco Berry’s name draws out an involuntary smile and chuckle from the Warriors’ coaching staff and his teammates, reflecting the centre tyro’s popularity in the squad for indefinable off-field qualities as much as his more clear-cut attributes.

In a promising yet patchy start to 2024 for a team whose premiership window is wide open, Berry has been among the club’s most consistent players across the opening three rounds.

“I think he’s been excellent, Rocco,” said coach Andrew Webster after the Warriors’ tough 18-10 win over Canberra, before briefly interrupting his footy-focused answer as skipper Tohu Harris grinned like there was an inside joke we’re not in on.

“We love him, yeah, the mention of his name puts a smile on everyone’s face, for different reasons.

“There’s some flashy plays there, but there’s more hard work than anything.”

Likewise, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s face beams with happiness when asked about his right-edge partner’s rapid improvement and rousing start to the season.

“I’m loving playing outside Rocco, I’ve got the best seat in the house to see what he really does,” the winger said while clutching a fan-made poster of Berry snaffled from the Christchurch crowd to take home to his kids.

“We see what he’s doing and he’s getting better and better each week.

“He’s a good kid, eh, he’s young and he was the baby for quite a while … straight out of school and straight from rugby (union).

“He’s keen on learning, he’s a humble kid and he’s really liked by the group.”

One of the more unheralded members of the Warriors’ line-up, Berry’s high-level contribution to their first win of the season was hard to miss.

In a tense encounter with the Raiders – only his 34th in the NRL – the 22-year-old hit his mark in a series of big moments on both sides of the ball, including an early try-saver on Hudson Young to force an error, a superb in-goal take of a dangerous bomb and a slick touch in the lead-up to Luke Metcalf’s pivotal second-half try.

He was similarly impressive in tight losses to Cronulla and Melbourne – and absorbing individual battles with Siosifa Talakai and Reimis Smith, respectively – cementing his position in a well-stocked backline.

“I feel like our edge is building well, we’re starting to put together full performances and I’m just trying to get on the back of players like ‘Shauny’ (Johnson), do my job and be consistent with that each week,” Berry said.

Amid a cavalcade of career-best campaigns from established representative players, Berry was the breakout apprentice of the Warriors’ incredible 2023 resurgence.

But as the club was enjoying runaway-train momentum, he was initially left at the station, recovering from a foot complaint before an injury to Ed Kosi provided his first opportunity of season in Round 11.

By the end of the year, he had more than doubled his first-grade appearances tally and featured prominently in the Warriors’ drive to their first preliminary final in over a decade.

“I hadn’t played a consistent amount of games in my first few years at the Warriors and obviously being able to do that [last season], I got a lot of confidence heading into this season and getting a good, full pre-season in,” Berry added.

“I was playing with great players and I knew I had to be on my game each week to keep up with them. I just believed in everything ‘Webby’ was putting in front of us, the advice he was giving me and the belief he had in me.”

Playing his part in a compelling Warriors title bid is Berry’s sole focus for now, but maintaining his current form will surely see him come into calculations for Stacey Jones’ inaugural Kiwis team later in the year, particularly if Roosters ace Joey Manu opts to leave the game at the end of 2024.

Read more on nrl.com

As seen on nrl.com

Congratulations to Kiwi #755 Rotorua native Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who celebrated the huge milestone of his 300th NRL game over the weekend. The 33-Test match Kiwi debuted in 2009 and is now his fifteenth season as the Roosters forward pack’s leader and enforcer.

Sydney Roosters team-mates were describing how they planned to honour Jared Waerea-Hargreaves just before running out for his 300th match when the dressing room doors opened, and he saw daughters Zahli and Harper waiting for him.

“I sort of knew what was happening, but just to see them physically, right there, that sort of made me feel a little bit emotional,” Waerea-Hargreaves told NRL.com after Friday night’s 48-6 triumph against arch-rivals South Sydney.

7 March 2024

An exciting opportunity awaits Bay of Plenty’s Paki Parkinson, one of New Zealand Rugby League’s most notable match officials. Parkinson’s longtime commitment to the game has seen him earn an NRL officiating debut as a touch judge, tomorrow in the Warriors v Sharks home game at Go Media Mt. Smart Stadium.

In 2016 when an ACL injury ruled him out of playing rugby league, Parkinson wanted to stay amongst the game so he set his sights on becoming an NZRL-qualified referee.

“Refereeing is about being part of the community and the game, without the contact”.

“It’s a great way to be involved and give back to rugby league, and make new friends as well”, says Parkinson.

Since 2016 Parkinson has become one of the most prominent match officials in New Zealand, being a constant presence at grassroots and national tournaments nationwide.

“I feel overwhelmed and excited that all the hard work has paid off, it’s hard to put into words

“On top of dedication, training, and commitment, the support of my wife and family has helped me get to this level” Parkinson shared.

Whilst he has been a mainstay in grassroots football, in recent years his expertise has also earned him elite-level opportunities.

Parkinson first took to the international stage in 2018 for the Kiwi Ferns v Jillaroos Test match, before gaining selection for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in the United Kingdom.

2023 was another big year for Parkinson in which he officiated for the New Zealand Universities and Tertiary Students Tests, the Indigenous v Māori All Stars women’s match, and the Pacific Championships.

Since 2018 Parkinson has been a touch judge in the NRL New South Wales Cup and other junior NRL competitions, then in mid-2023 he debuted as a primary on-field referee which was no doubt a stepping stone that has now led him to the NRL Premiership.

All these achievements in 2023 contributed to him being awarded NZRL Match Official of the Year award for the fourth consecutive year, says Alan Caddy.

“Paki has served the game for many years, his selection is well-deserved and shows a positive pathway for referees in New Zealand” Alan shared.

NZRL CEO Greg Peters says, “What a proud moment to have a Kiwi selected to officiate at the highest level in this game,”

Peters adds, “Congratulations Paki, I know you will make New Zealand Rugby League and your community proud.”

To learn how you can become involved in refereeing, contact your local NZRL District or Zone referee association and see here for more information.

As seen on NRL.com

After stealing the show on the grand stage that was the NRL’s historic double-header in Las Vegas on Sunday, Joey Manu admitted there were times last week when playing rugby league on the other side of the world was the last thing he wanted to be doing.

The Kiwi Test star remained in Sydney after his teammates departed for the US late last month as he awaited the birth of his daughter, and when she eventually arrived on February 24 Manu decided he wouldn’t travel to take on the Broncos at Allegiant Stadium.

But some arm twisting from coach Trent Robinson triggered a change of heart, with the 27-year-old arriving days before kick-off and going on to play a starring role in his side’s 20-10 win over last year’s beaten grand finalists.

“Once she came, I wanted to stay home. I tried to stay home. But ‘Robbo’ told me to get on the plane and come over here,” Manu said after the game.

“Only the second day after she came, I had to pretty much go [to the US].

“It was full on, no sleep. It was tough leaving my wife, I just felt like I was helpless really and I felt so bad.

“But she ended up getting her head around it. She was supportive as and said, ‘go do your thing and come home to us next week’.”

And do his thing he did.

A try off an intercept to open the game was followed by a masterful assist in the second half – which saw Manu create space between two defenders before flinging a no-look flick pass out to winger Junior Pauga – played a huge role in the Roosters winning their first season-opener since 2021.

Manu also contributed 165 run metres, eight tackle busts and two line break assists, with the experience of being part of a history-making event worth it in the end.

“To come over here in Vegas, I always wanted to be a part of it,” Manu said.

“I just didn’t want to miss out on the game. It was a good experience out there.

“We’re the first to do it too, so I didn’t want to miss it and it would have been pretty tough watching it from home.

“I’m glad I came over now.”

Meanwhile the two-time premiership winner said he was hopeful of having his immediate playing future sorted soon, as he continues to decide between remaining in the NRL or potentially switching codes to rugby union, which he grew up playing in New Zealand.

“Still in the middle of sorting things out. But Robbo has been awesome. He’s been openminded and he just wants the best for myself,” Manu said.

“I just want the best for myself, my family and the Roosters too.

“Hopefully I can get some things in place. But still up in the air. I just want to knock it on the head and then just get into the season.

“I hope I get to finish my career here or get a few more years here. I came here when I was 16, so to give back to the club, the fans, the members and all that, would be special.

“They kickstarted my career and hopefully I get a few more years… it would be tough to play for a different club.”

As seen on warriors.kiwi

Another huge accolade for the One New Zealand Warriors tonight with the public voting the club the winner of 2023’s New Zealand Favourite Sporting Moment at the Halberg Awards tonight.

In an award decided exclusively by fans, the Warriors headed off nine other finalists with their astounding comeback win over Cronulla Sutherland on April 2.

Shaun Johnson nailed a clutch penalty in the final seconds to secure a remarkable 32-30 win after the One New Zealand Warriors had recovered from a 0-20 deficit midway through the first half.

Once voting opened for the award the public gathered behind the One New Zealand Warriors just as they did throughout the club’s exceptional 2023 NRL campaign.

“The victory over the Sharks is up there as one of the biggest wins and biggest moments in our club’s history,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George.

“To come back like that, the determination the side showed, summed up our season overall I thought.

“We had the fans showing amazing support for us all season and they’ve shown it again by voting for the club to win this award. We thank them so much for their commitment to us.”

The win over the Sharks came early in a season which saw the One New Zealand Warriors secure a top four spot for the first time since 2007 before they went on to finish one win short of making the grand final.

As seen on NRL.com

Kiwi Ferns legend Honey Hireme-Smiler will be part of the Sky Sport commentary team that breaks new ground with unique bilingual commentary on this week’s All Stars games in Townsville.

One of the greatest players to ever pull on a Kiwi Ferns jumper, Hireme-Smiler played 32 Tests and went to four World Cups, and now she finds herself on the other side of the microphone.

“I’m thrilled to see Sky creating innovative ways to foster use and acceptance of reo Māori. This will be a new and unique opportunity for the commentary team, and we are so ready to deliver an awesome immersive experience for New Zealanders,” said Hireme-Smiler.

Sky Sport’s collaboration with the NRL for 2024 kicks off with the two showpiece All Stars games in Townsville this weekend.

Sky Sport has been steadily increasing the use of te reo Māori, but bilingual commentary is another first for the company, highlighting Sky’s dedication to foster cultural diversity and support the normalisation of te reo Māori on air.

Coverage on Sky Sport 1 will be available through Sky, streaming on Sky Sport Now and free to view on Sky Open with an alternative Australian Fox Sport commentary available on Sky Sport 4 or by using the alternative commentary via the yellow button.

The Harvey Norman All Stars will be presented by veteran Māori broadcaster, Te Arahi Maipi (Tainui) with bilingual commentary provided by Dale Husband (Ngāti Maru), Te Aorere Pēwhairangi (Ngāti Porou) and Honey Hireme-Smiler (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Haua, Tainui)

Pre and post-match panel discussions will be led Maipi who will be joined by Warriors captain, Tohu Harris (Ngāti Kahungunu) and Hireme-Smiler.

The success of incorporating te reo Māori into sport coverage was proven during last year’s Harvey Norman All Stars game, reaching more than 100,000 viewers were covered by Te Aorere Pēwhairangi on social media.

As seen on NRL.com

Issac Luke is on the verge of making a shock comeback with the Māori side in next month’s Harvey Norman NRL All Stars, which would see him take the field on the one-year anniversary of his father’s passing.

Despite not playing in the NRL since 2020, the 36-year-old hooker has just completed a full pre-season with Queensland Cup side Souths Logan, after he returned with them for the back end of last season and appeared in three games.

Luke had just arrived home from his week as an assistant coach with the Māori All Stars last February when he found out his dad, George, had passed away following a slip that occurred during Cyclone Gabrielle in New Zealand.

In the months which followed, Luke decided to give top-level football another go as a way to honour George and in recent times he’s been in regular contact with new Māori coach Adam Blair about a comeback for the event in Townsville on February 16.

“If I was to get the chance, I’d be playing for my dad. The game falls on the day he died last year,” Luke told NRL.com.

“I am the second oldest of his children and I spoke to my dad every week, so not being able to have that, it’s tough.

“If I do get the green light [to play] I don’t know how I will handle the occasion… but I am blessed even to be considered.

“[Physically] I’ll be good, I have got through the pre-season with the Magpies (Souths Logan) and have passed everything I needed to.”

Luke descends from the Ngāruahine iwi in southern Taranaki and previously represented the Māori in 2020 and 2021, at the back end of his 286-game NRL career.

Having played numerous Tests alongside him for the Kiwis, before later linking up with him at the Warriors and with the Māori All Stars, Blair knows better than most what Luke can do for a team.

“’Bully’ [Luke] brings players together; he carries a lot of mana from his experience and what he has done in the game,” Blair told NRL.com.

“He’s someone that wears his heart on his sleeve and understands how much it means to be Māori and what this represents.

“To have someone like him around the camp, whether that be as a player or staff, is invaluable to the group.

“He will never let you down, but he will know if he is ready or not.”

After watching Luke progress throughout the pre-season, Souths Logan coach Karmichael Hunt believes the former Kiwi international still has what it takes to play at an elite level, despite his 37th birthday coming up this May.

“No doubt, if he was given an opportunity, he would be able to still do a job at that level,” Hunt told NRL.com.

“You don’t lose your footy nous and ability to think your way through a contest and Bully still picks our defence apart at training; he is as crafty as can be with the ball.

“He’s in really good condition…. he’s had a full pre-season and is looking really good.”

See the ultimate celebration of culture and showcase of pride at NRL Harvey Norman All Stars. Grab your tickets here.

A number of Kiwis, Kiwi Ferns, and fellow New Zealanders are set to take the field in the NRL and NRLW Grand Finals this Sunday October 1st. The games will be played at Sydney’s Accor Stadium, featuring defending champions the Newcastle Knights women and two-time consecutive NRL Premiers, the Penrith Panthers, looking to achieve a three-peat.

 

NRLW Grand Final – Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans, Sunday 1st October, 5:55 pm NZST

Newcastle Knights:

#3 Shanice Parker (Kiwi Fern #163)

#4 Abigail Roache (Kiwi Fern #168)

#11 Laishon Albert-Jones (Kiwi Fern #161)

#14 Nita Maynard (Kiwi Fern #137)

The Newcastle Knights look to defend their 2022 title and are touted as favourites to win, having only lost once during the regular season. Kiwi Ferns bolster the Newcastle side across the pitch, with Roache and Parker in the centres, Albert-Jones inside Parker at second row, and Maynard to come off the bench as a substitute hooker. The Knights secured their spot in the Grand Final after a thrilling Preliminary Final which saw them narrowly outlast the Brisbane Broncos.

 

Gold Coast Titans:

#4 Niall Williams-Guthrie

#13 Georgia Hale, Captain (Kiwi Fern #122)

The Gold Coast Titans women enter their first Grand Final as underdogs after finishing the 2022 competition in last place. In an outstanding turnaround, the Queensland side finished fourth on the table and then went on to beat the formidable Sydney Roosters outfit in the Preliminary Finals. Kiwi Fern veteran Georgia Hale will lead the team onto the park as they aim to win their first NRLW Premiership. Niall Williams-Guthrie will take her place in the centres after only her first season of rugby league, having made the code-switch from New Zealand rugby sevens.

 

NRL Grand Final – Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos, Sunday 1st October, 9:30 pm NZST

Penrith Panthers:

#8 Moses Leota (Kiwi #827)

#10 James Fisher-Harris (Kiwi #801)

#11 Scott Sorensen (Kiwi #831)

Moses Leota and James Fisher-Harris line up as the starting props in Penrith’s daunting forward pack, while Scott Sorensen will appear on the left edge at second-row. The Panthers will look to complete the first three-peat since the Eels 1981-1983 Premierships, but were beaten by the Broncos once during the regular season. Penrith enter their fourth consecutive Grand Final, following a dominant 38-4 win over the Melbourne Storm in their Preliminary Final.

 

Brisbane Broncos:

#2 Jesse Arthars

#12 Jordan Riki

Young Jesse Arthars and Jordan Riki will lace up for the Brisbane Broncos after consistently exceptional seasons. Both have been in the Broncos squad since the club’s infamous last-place season in 2020. The fiery Brisbane side has since become a force to be reckoned with, due to their powerful forward pack and explosive backs. They enter the Grand Final looking to win their first Premiership since 2006.

The 2023 Dally M Awards at Sydney’s Royal Randwick racecourse saw several Kiwi men and women take home some of the most prestigious awards at the NRL level.

The NRL and NRLW Dally M Teams of the Year recognises the best player in each position across all regular season rounds. Judges regularly vote on the best player in each position throughout the year, with a further vote conducted at the end of the regular season.

Significant changes to the Dally M voting process for both the NRL and NRLW competitions were introduced for the 2023 season. This season, two independent judges each gave out votes on a 3,2,1 basis for every game, meaning players could earn a maximum of six votes per game compared to three in previous years. The decision to add a second judge to assess each game in 2023 will increase the final total of points to players, but also the level of fairness in further removing potential variances arising from a single judge voting on a game.

First-class wingers Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Jamayne Isaako were named Wingers of the Year, with Jamayne also the NRL’s top point scorer this season. Watene-Zelezniak achieved the New Zealand Warriors club record for most tries in a season, while fellow teammate Shaun Johnson rightfully earned Halfback of the Year. Johnson had an outstanding comeback season that helped his side reach the NRL Preliminary Final for the first time in 12 years. He was only beaten by 1 point to narrowly miss out on the prestigious Dally M Medal.

Having only made their NRLW debuts at the beginning of the season, Mele Hufanga and Annessa Biddle took home the Centre and Rookie of the Year awards after consistently outstanding performances week in and week out. Hufanga starred for the semi-finalist Brisbane Broncos after debuting for the Kiwi Ferns at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup. The 21-year-old Biddle also finished second in the competition for post-contact metres (620). “What a season it’s been for me and I’m just so honoured and privileged to receive this award especially with the amount of outstanding rookies there were,” Biddle said.

 

2023 NRL DALLY M AWARDS, KIWI WINNERS

Winger of the Year – Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand Warriors, Kiwi #794), Jamayne Isaako (Redcliffe Dolphins, Kiwi #808)

Halfback of the Year – Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors, Kiwi #774)

 

2023 NRLW DALLY M AWARDS, KIWI WINNERS

Centre of the Year – Mele Hufanga (Brisbane Broncos, Kiwi Fern #166)

Rookie of the Year – Annessa Biddle (Cronulla Sharks)

 

For the full Team of the Year lists see here: NRL, NRLW

 

As seen on Sydney Morning Herald smh.com

Niall Williams-Guthrie remembers the intensity and the excitement of the 2004 NRL grand final.

She’d flown over from New Zealand to watch her 19-year-old brother, Sonny Bill Williams, play for the premiership in front of 80,000 people in just his first year in the NRL.

Nineteen years later, Williams-Guthrie is poised to experience those emotions all over again – but this time she’ll be on the field, rather than in the stands, when she runs out for the Titans in Sunday’s NRLW grand final.

“That was unreal, that was crazy [2004 final]. I remember sitting in the stands watching with all of our family, there was like 50 of us … it was a cool moment for our family,” Williams-Guthrie said.

“For me to even be a part of the Titans is massive, but hopefully be a part of a first premiership winning team, in any sport on the Gold Coast, is massive,” she said.

“We said we wanted to bring gold to the Gold [Coast]. We’ve never shied away that that was our end goal, but we knew we had to tick all the boxes to get there.

“To be able to put ourselves in the position where we are only one game away from doing that is just credit to the girls and our management.”

Williams-Guthrie is playing her first season in rugby league at the age of 35, after switching from rugby sevens where she won an Olympic silver and Commonwealth Games gold and bronze for New Zealand.

“Sometimes people talk to me like I’m a seasoned veteran because I’ve played sports for so long, but I’m pretty much 9-10 games deep in my league career,” she said.

And when she needs a bit of extra advice, her brother isn’t afraid to give some feedback.

“I get voice messages from him [Sonny], the whole debrief, after every game,” she said.

The Titans have been the surprise package of the NRLW season. Karyn Murphy’s team is made up of a mix of veterans like Stephanie Hancock (41) and Karina Brown (34), and a handful of teenagers fresh out of the Titans junior pathways such as Rilee Jorgensen and Destiny Mino-Sinapati.

One thing that Williams-Guthrie has that a lot of the younger players don’t is big game experience.

“One more set, that’s all we got. The next tackle, that’s all we got right now, right here and then,” she tells them.

“You can’t go too far ahead of yourself, or you don’t stay in the moment, and you’re thinking about the grand final, but you’re missing the tackle here.

“Whether it’s a good moment or a bad moment, you learn from it and you move on to the next one, and that’s what I’ve been drilling into some of the young girls.”

Just as she flew over to support Williams 2004, her family is flying across the ditch this weekend to cheer her on.

“The club helped me to get my daughters and Tama [husband] over for the grand final, so we just had to have that faith that we were going to be in the grand final,” she said. “They’re flying in the day before, and it’s been two and a half months since I last saw them, so it’s going to be a big reunion.”

As seen on nrl.com

The National Rugby League (NRL) has announced the nominees for the 2023 NRL Dally M Team of the Year as well as several individual Dally M awards for the NRL Telstra Premiership.

The Dally M Awards recognise the game’s most outstanding performers from both the NRL Telstra Premiership and NRL Telstra Women’s Premiership each year, with this year’s awards to be presented on Wednesday, September 27 in Sydney.

Significant changes to the Dally M voting process for both the NRL and NRLW competitions were introduced for the 2023 season.

This season, two independent judges each gave out votes on a 3,2,1 basis for every game, meaning players were able to earn a maximum of six votes per game compared to three in previous years.

The decision to add in a second judge to assess each game in 2023 will increase the final total of points to players, but also the level of fairness in further removing potential variances that arise from a single judge voting on a game.

Any player suspended for a total of two NRL regular season games becomes ineligible to claim any Dally M award, while a one-game suspension brings with it a deduction of six points this year (compared to a deduction of three points in past seasons). Players who become ineligible for awards due to suspension are still able to pick up points in subsequent games so as not to distort the voting process throughout the regular season.

However, players who are suspended for two games will be ineligible to collect any awards, deeming Kiwi players such as Jeremy Marshall-King, Jahrome Hughes, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Marata Niukore, and Annetta-Claudia Nuuausala not available.

The NRL Dally M Team of the Year recognises the best player in each position across all rounds of the regular season. Judges vote on the best player in each position at regular intervals throughout the year with a further vote conducted at the end of the regular season.

The player who polls the highest number of votes in each position is included in the Team of the Year, while players who finish in the top three of the overall Dally M Medal leaderboard receive their respective position in the Team of the Year if available.

 

2023 NRL Dally M Awards, Kiwi nominees

Winger of the Year (two winners) – Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand Warriors), Jamayne Isaako (Redcliffe Dolphins), Ronaldo Mulitalo (Cronulla Sharks)

Halfback of the Year – Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors)

Prop of the Year (two winners) – James Fisher-Harris (Panthers), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne Storm)

Second Row of the Year (two winners) – Briton Nikora (Cronulla Sharks)

Lock of the Year – Tohu Harris (New Zealand Warriors)

Captain of the Year – Tohu Harris (New Zealand Warriors)

Rookie of the Year – William Warbrick (Melbourne Storm)

YOUI Tackle of the Year – Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders)

 

2023 NRLW Dally M Awards, Kiwi nominees

Centre of the Year (two winners) – Annessa Biddle (Cronulla Sharks), Mele Hufanga (Brisbane Broncos), Shanice Parker (Newcastle Knights)

Five-Eighth of the Year – Gayle Broughton (Brisbane Broncos)

Halfback of the Year – Raecene McGregor (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Second Row of the Year (two winners) – Otesa Pule (Sydney Roosters)

Lock of the Year – Georgia Hale (Gold Coast Titans)

Captain of the Year – Georgia Hale (Gold Coast Titans)

Rookie of the Year – Annessa Biddle (Cronulla Sharks)

Try of the Year – Leianne Tufuga (Wests Tigers)

 

Read more on nrl.com

As seen on raiders.com

Canberra Raiders forward Joe Tapine has capped off another wonderful season in green, by taking home the Meninga Medal as the club’s best player in 2023, at the Raiders Presentation night at the National Convention Centre.

It’s Tapine’s second Meninga Medal in as many seasons, after winning the award last season.

It was a tightly contested affair this year with fellow Kiwis following closely as Sebastian Kris finished just two votes behind Tapine, while Matt Timoko rounded out the top three of voting.

Sebastian Kris was rewarded for his wonderful season with the NRL Coaches award. With the NRLW season having two matches remaining the Player of the Year was not awarded on the night and will be awarded at the end of their regular season.

Read the full article on raiders.com

As seen on stuff.co.nz

Jamayne Isaako is being tipped for a test recall after becoming the first player in 33 years since Rugby League Immortal Mal Meninga to lead the NRL for most points and most tries.

The Dolphins wing – who is eligible to play for the Kiwis and Samoa – celebrated a double last achieved by Meninga at the Canberra Raiders in 1990.

Meninga – now the Kangaroos coach – scored 15 tries and got 212 points in a 22-game New South Wales Rugby League premiership 33 years ago. Isaako dotted down 24 times and reaped 244 points in 24 appearances this year.

Yet, in many ways, Isaako’s feat is more outstanding. Canberra were the minor premiers and grand final champions in Meninga’s banner year, whereas the Dolphins finished 13th in their maiden season.

Isaako got as many tries in 2023 as he mustered in five years with the Brisbane Broncos.

“It’s a wonderful achievement for him,’’ Dolphins assistant coach Kristian Woolf said of the tries and points double after watching Isaako score a try and kick five goals in a 34-10 win over the Warriors in Brisbane last Saturday.

“For him to do that in a side that have not made the top-eight makes it even more special.

“He’s outstanding, and we’re very lucky to have him.’’

Dolphins and Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich wouldn’t be surprised to see a national coach dialling Isaako’s number for upcoming tests.

“He’s been one of our best players all year,” Bromwich said. “He can do it all, his backfield carries are really strong and he’s finished really well.

“He should be expecting a call, for sure, he’s been outstanding.”

Christchurch-born Isaako made his NRL debut for the Broncos in 2017 but left them in 2022 for an 11-game stint with the Titans before taking up his three-year deal with the Dolphins.

Woolf said Isaako had been “very professional on and off the field”.

“Whenever he gets the ball, he’s got the ability to do something and make something happen.

“He doesn’t miss too many times when he gets the opportunity for a try, he’s been great in that department, and he’s been great with his goalkicking.

“He certainly deserves all the accolades.”

Isaako made his Kiwis test debut in 2019. He won the last of his five caps in 2019, and also had a test for Samoa that year to honour his father, Taai, who was fighting brain cancer.

He got the chance to play in front of his dad in Christchurch for the Kiwis against Great Britain in November 2019.

Isaako was regularly returning home to Christchurch to be with his family before his father died in 2020.

He wears the name ‘Dad’ on his wrist strapping when he plays.

After a standout start for the Broncos – he was the NRL’s top points scorer and rookie of the year in 2018 – Isaako played just one game in 2022 before his temporary shift to the Titans.

Now he’s made every post a winner at the Redcliffe-based Dolphins under veteran master coach Wayne Bennett in the company of a clutch of Kiwis, including Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, Kodi Nikorima, Jeremy Marshall-King and exciting rookie Valynce Te Whare.

Read more on stuff.co.nz

As seen on nrl.com

Shaun Johnson’s stellar 2023 season has been capped with three awards including the One New Zealand Warriors’ highest accolade – the Simon Mannering Medal – at the club’s 29th annual awards at the Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland tonight.

In a season of singular achievement he was also judged by his peers as the players’ player of the year and won the One New Zealand People’s Choice award voted by the public.

The triple sweep comes five days out from Johnson celebrating his 33rd birthday on the same day the One New Zealand Warriors meet Penrith in their first NRL finals match in five years.

In winning the premier award, Johnson emulates the great Stacey Jones, the only other halfback to receive the accolade in the club’s history when he was honoured in 1997.

Also rated as a strong chance to win the prestigious Dally M Medal as the NRL’s player of the year, Johnson has been in sublime form throughout his first season back home since the 2018 season.

He was on the field for all but 22 minutes of a possible 1842 minutes in the first 23 games of the campaign before being rested for Saturday’s final regular season match against the Dolphins.

He’s the competition’s fifth highest points-scorer this year with 176 including eight tries, his best season tally since he scored 10 tries in 2016.

Johnson has more try assists than any other player with a career-best 27 plus 24 line break assists, 16 line break involvements, 10 line breaks and 38 tackles breaks.

He has dominated kicking statistics with the most kick metres (11,866) and most kicks (383) while he is a close second for most attacking kicks (190) and one off the top for most short drop-outs with 25.

Yet it was Johnson’s defensive efforts including his kick-chase which won plaudits from his teammates and coaching staff alike. He has made a career-high 433 tackles so far at an effective tackling rate of 92 per cent, the best he has ever achieved.

As seen on nrl.com

If you’ve watched him play this season then you’ll struggle to believe it, but confidence has never really been a strong point for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

Humility was central in his upbringing as part of a Māori whānau (family) in Hamilton, New Zealand, and it’s a big reason why he’s become one of the most popular members of the Warriors’ squad since joining mid-season in 2021.

But as he’s learned in the more recent part of his now 12-year professional career, it’s also a trait which has at times held him back on the rugby league field and meant he hasn’t always backed himself.

“It’s something I have lacked in the past for sure. I am not a very confident person and that is something I have worked on,” Watene-Zelezniak told NRL.com.

“I never grew up talking about my achievements and things like that.

“I have had a mind coach now for a few years and I am just trying to believe in myself and the things I can do. That goes a long way to performing out on the field.

“Also knowing that I have been around a long time and you don’t lose things, you gain things, and most of it is in my head.”

The results are hard to argue with so far in 2023.

Following his stunning hat-trick to help his side past the Sea Eagles 29-22 last Friday, the veteran has shot up to 21 tries for the year and is equal with Jamayne Isaako and Alex Johnston as the NRL’s top try-scorer, despite playing six less games than the former and five fewer than Johnston.

It also puts him on track to become the most prolific Warrior of all time across a single season, with the mark of 23 tries achieved by both Francis Meli and David Fusitu’a in the past set to be crushed if the 28-year-old remains fit.

He has failed to score a four-pointer just once in his past 12 games and has just four games this year without at least one try to his name.

But ask him how he’s doing it and those old habits creep back, with his teammates, coaches and whānau all listed as reasons before he takes any credit himself.

“I am a lot of things before I’m a footy player and being a husband and father are my most treasured things… what my wife and kids are doing for me at home has been so important,” he said.

I have got a lot of clarity in what I am doing, thanks to Webby [coach Andrew Webster] and his game plan and what he has been talking to me about, the way he has narrowed my role.

“What Shaun [Johnson], Marata [Niukore] and Rocco [Berry] and Charnze [Nicoll-Kolkstad] are doing, I am reaping the rewards for that. They are doing the tough stuff, I get to do the pretty stuff.”

Meanwhile the impact of the Warriors’ remarkable rise to prominence this year continues to be felt across the NRL, with ticket sales for the club’s clash against the Dragons this Friday at Go Media Stadium reaching capacity within hours of their win in Round 25.

Read more on nrl.com/news/2023/08/21/dwz-embracing-the-swagger-as-club-record-nears/

As seen on nrl.com

Despite falling short in his bid to sign Shaun Johnson earlier this year, Wests Tigers assistant coach Benji Marshall is backing the veteran No.7 to cap off a brilliant season by claiming the Dally M Medal.

Prior to Johnson inking a one-year extension with the Warriors last month, the Wests Tigers were in negotiations to sign the 32-year-old who in 2023 has rediscovered career-best form to help the Warriors sit third on the Telstra Premiership ladder.

Ahead of facing the Warriors and his former Kiwis halves partner at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday night, Marshall shared his admiration for Johnson and said he deserves to take home the game’s biggest individual honour this year.

“It’s no secret we tried to lure Shaun Johnson over the ditch… the way he is playing inside that team, I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win the Dally M,” Marshall said.

“Shaun has always been one of my favourite players to watch and when he gets criticised, at times I find it hard to hear, because it’s unfair a lot of the time.

“If you watch his game closely this year he is putting his body on the line defensively – I think he’s got 92 percent tackle efficiency – for a half that is phenomenal.

“He is definitely their go-to guy and that’s why we tried to sign him.

“The way he is going, and given the Warriors results, he will be a big chance [to win the Dally M Medal]. He would be the second Warrior ever to do it, it’d be awesome.”

At the time of Dally M Medal voting going behind closed doors after Round 12, Johnson sat eight points back from leader Payne Haas.

Since then he has played a key role in the Warriors winning seven of nine games, setting up 12 tries and scoring six himself.

Johnson heads into Round 24 trailing only Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater in terms of try assists with 22, while he leads the NRL in kick metres.

Marshall meanwhile said the Warriors’ rapid rise this season under rookie head coach Andrew Webster comes as little surprise to him, after he experienced first-hand Webster’s style while he was an assistant coach at the Wests Tigers when Marshall was still playing.

“I’ve never seen a coach be able to talk and explain rugby league and put it in a way where players understand it [like he can], he has a knack,” Marshall said.

“I think you can see with the Warriors, the way they are playing with resilience, their defence is outstanding, all the little effort areas they are really good at and that’s Webby.

“To see what he has done with that team, it’s been a massive turnaround. I think when the Warriors are good rugby league in New Zealand is generally good.”

 

Read more on https://www.nrl.com/news/2023/08/11/surprised-if-he-doesnt-win-marshall-backs-sj-for-dally-m/

As seen on warriors.kiwi

Taine Tuaupiki’s inclusion for unavailable first-choice fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the only change to the One New Zealand Warriors’ line-up for their 24th-round clash against the Wests Tigers at FMG Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday night (7.30pm kick-off).

Nicoll-Klokstad is subject to NRL concussion protocols after being forced off the field following a high tackle from Gold Coast prop Moeaki Fotuaika early in last Friday night’s encounter in Robina.

The 23-year-old Tuaupiki was activated as 18th man to replace Nicoll-Klokstad after Fotuaika was sent off and will start this week in what will be his fourth NRL appearance. He was impressive in his 63 minutes against Gold Coast making 165 metres from 17 runs with six tackle breaks and five tackles.

The rest of the starting line-up and interchange is the same as the combination used in the 28-18 victory over the Titans, a result which kept the Warriors in third place on the ladder.

The away game at a sold out FMG Waikato Stadium will be the 700th in the One New Zealand Warriors’ history and the 248th career appearance for halfback Shaun Johnson. Hamilton-raised Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will be looking to extend a stunning try-scoring streak which has seen him score 15 tries in his last 10 outings, failing to score only in the home loss to South Sydney.

 

Read more here – https://www.warriors.kiwi/news/2023/08/08/rd-24-team-list-tuaupiki-starts/

As seen on nrl.com

Read more here – https://www.nrl.com/news/2023/07/20/so-much-joy-sj-reflects-on-a-week-like-no-other/

 

Looking into his daughter’s eyes as she scanned the 24,000 screaming fans who filled Go Media Stadium last Sunday, Shaun Johnson experienced a new career highlight.

Days on from inking a new one-year deal with the Warriors, Johnson had the chance to carry two-year-old Millah out onto the field with him ahead of the 44-12 victory over the Sharks in Round 20, as he was recognised for reaching 200 games for the club a week prior.

 

As seen on nzherald.co.nz

Read more here – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/kahu/one-of-the-greatest-underdog-makes-it-big-stories-briton-nikora/ZRCWAKIIXZGJDHDYMUNBWRYU7M/

 

NRL player Briton Nikora (Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) might just possess one of the greatest underdog-makes-it-big stories.

“I remember a couple of teachers who said: ‘You’d better listen because you’ll never play in the NRL’,” he said in an interview with Te Ao With Moana’s Hikurangi Kimiora Jackson.

“There would’ve been heaps of people that doubted me. Just coming up in the grades, just obviously not making like teams.”

It might shock some but Nikora, who was selected for the Kiwis after just 12 games in the NRL and just recently hit the 100 games milestone, almost gave up on his NRL dream.

July 12, 2023

Canterbury Rugby League’s newly established partnership with Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs is set to provide players and coaches from the region with unprecedented development opportunities and pathways to progress to Australia’s elite age-group and senior men’s and women’s competitions.

Rubberstamped in recent weeks, the agreement between the two organisations promises to be an invaluable and mutually beneficial initiative.

CRL’s ongoing responsibility to player and coach development, combined with the Bulldogs’ commitment to provide support for local coaches – which in turn helps players’ ability to improve – and training camp opportunities for promising players, will potentially lead to positions with the Sydney-based club.

“This is a substantial development for Canterbury Rugby League,” CRL CEO Malcolm Humm says.

“As part of our 2023-26 Strategic Plan, a key goal is that ‘pathway opportunities are fostered through strategic partnerships’. We believe this agreement with Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs is going to have a significant impact on the development of players and coaches in Canterbury, as well as the wider South Island region.

“To have access to the knowledge and experience of such a quality and successful club such as the Bulldogs is both exciting and one hell of a privilege.”

Ultimately, Canterbury Rugby League’s aim is to support players that have been identified by Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to transition to an Australian competition, whether it be their Harold Matthews Cup (under-17s), SG Ball Cup (under-19s), Jersey Flegg (under-21s) and Tarsha Gale Cup (women’s under-18s) teams, or their Harvey Norman Women’s, NSW Cup, NRL and future NRLW premiership squads.

As well as winning eight premierships since joining the competition in 1935, Canterbury-Bankstown has an impressive reputation as a development club. The Bulldogs have won six NSW Cup titles since 1998 and were grand finalists in 2022, boast a record nine Jersey Flegg Cup titles, won the 2023 Harold Matthews Cup, reached the 2023 Tarsha Gale Cup and Harvey Norman Women’s grand finals and have their sights set on entering an NRLW team for the first time in 2025.

“Although some of the detail is still to be worked through, we have agreed that Canterbury-based coaches and players will be recipients of coaching clinics led by Bulldogs coaching personnel, whilst both entities want to ensure that identified players and coaches from the Canterbury region have the opportunity to be immersed within the club’s environment in camp scenarios,” Humm explains.

“There are numerous ways in which we can benefit each other, and we are just excited to get to this point and commence the operational plan.”

Canterbury Rugby League harbours strong links with the Bulldogs stretching back more than half a century. Linwood, Canterbury and New Zealand Test prop Bill Noonan famously became the first major signing made by legendary Canterbury-Bankstown secretary Peter ‘Bullfrog’ Moore in 1970.

Noonan was the first Kiwi (along with teammate Henry Tatana) to feature in a NSWRL premiership grand final – Canterbury-Bankstown’s loss to Eastern Suburbs in the 1974 decider – and played 161 games in the blue-and-white jersey before linking with Newtown in 1979.

Hornby Kiwi Marty Crequer turned out for the Bulldogs in 1991, while elusive winger Jason Williams played in the 1994-95 grand finals – winning a premiership medal in the latter year – during a 73-game tenure with the club. More recently, former Hornby junior Fa’amanu Brown is currently enjoying his second NRL stint with the Bulldogs (he was also part of their NSW Cup-winning side in 2018), Halswell product Montel Lisala has played for their Jersey Flegg and Ron Massey Cup sides in 2023, and Northern’s Bronson Reuben and Hornby’s Sosaia Alatini starred in the Bulldogs’ recent Harold Matthews Cup title success in a team that was coached by former Halswell stalwart Shannon Rushworth.

“The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs has long been known as a development club,” said Bulldogs General Manager of Pathways, Adam Hartigan.

“We are committed to investing time into coach and player development through our growing satellite Academy programs – and partnerships such as this new venture with Canterbury Rugby League can only further benefit the game. We are extremely proud to be able to offer our support to the region.

“CRL has a strong track record of development and by partnering together, we feel we can provide even more young talent with the skills and resources they need to unlock their potential, and flourish both on and off the field.”

Linwood’s Chelden Hayward, a member of the Canterbury 18s team that competed in the recent South Island Boys Youth Tournament, is already benefiting from the Bulldogs’ pathways program while being able to remain in the region.

“Importantly, kids can be afforded the opportunity to develop their talent without needing to be relocated at an early age, and away from their home, schooling life and families,” Hartigan explains.

“Rather, this partnership will support coach development so that Canterbury junior league players can access premier coaching and programs at home, whilst still being afforded a clear and visible pathway to the NRL or NRLW.

“Chelden Hayward is a great example of how this pathway model works. With the upskilling of CRL coaches Chelden can stay at home, complete his schooling, and mature before the need to move Australia.”

 

July 11, 2023

All remaining general admission tickets are now available for just $15.00 each after the One New Zealand Warriors today launched a special 48-hour sale ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster against in-form Cronulla Sutherland at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart (4.00pm kick-off).

Launched through Ticketmaster at 10.00am today, the offer runs through until 10.00am on Thursday. With ticket sales already beyond the 22,000 mark by yesterday, a fifth consecutive 20,000-plus crowd is assured, a feat not achieved since the heady days when the Warriors debuted in 1995.

It leaves the club on track to match the 1995 record of eight straight crowds of more than 20,000. The stadium’s capacity has been increased to 31,000 with extra seating installed for the rugby union Test between the All Blacks and South Africa being played on Saturday night. With the additional seats available, it gives the One New Zealand Warriors a chance to attract their biggest crowd at Go Media Stadium outside the 1995 campaign.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get on board and pack the place out with an enormous crowd,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George. “The support from members and fans has been exceptional all season no matter what the weather. The players have been blown away by the experience of playing in front of such passionate crowds. They love it. “We’ve got a team which is playing with real determination and pride, pushing hard each week to make their supporters proud. “If you don’t have tickets yet, we’d urge you to jump on board and take advantage of this 48-hour sale. It’s going to be another huge day at our home on Sunday and we want as many people as possible to be part of it.”

George also encouraged supporters to make plans for the three remaining games at Go Media Stadium this season against Canberra (July 21), Manly Warringah (August 18) and St George Illawarra (August 25). “With the level of support we’ve seen, we’d recommend getting in now to buy tickets for the rest of the season,” he said. “Outside 1995, this has been the biggest season we’ve seen at Go Media Stadium so let’s keep it going and push the team all the way.”

The club record attendance at Go Media Stadium is 32,174 for the sixth-round match against the Illawarra Steelers at the then-named Ericsson Stadium in 1995 when the ground’s capacity was much bigger than it has been for many years. Outside 1995, the biggest attendance for all matches including finals was 28,745 for the week one play-off final against Parramatta in 2007.

The highest regular season crowd post-1995 was for last year’s homecoming against the Wests Tigers when a crowd of 26,009 packed the venue. If the One New Zealand Warriors post 20,000-plus crowds in the remaining home games they’ll equal the record set in 1995 when the original Warriors attracted crowds of more than 20,000 in their first eight home games of the season.

So far this season the total attendance for the first five home games has been 108,983 (an average crowd of 21,796 a game), the best numbers since 1995. The last four crowds have been 23,695 (Cowboys), 20,395 (Roosters), 23,686 (Dolphins) and 22,612 (Rabbitohs).

As seen on NRL.com

Read more here – https://www.nrl.com/news/2023/07/11/a-tale-of-two-sjs-the-legacy-of-johnson–jones/

Few outside the club knew it at the time, but in the final months of 2008, when Stacey Jones answered an SOS call from Ivan Cleary to come out of retirement, the Little General was making a crucial contribution to the career of his heir apparent.

Aged just 18 at the time, a scrawny touch player named Shaun Johnson was well and truly on the club’s radar as the possible long-term answer to their halves puzzle, something which had eluded them since Jones left the club for the south of France at the end of 2005.

As seen on nrl.com

 

As Jarrod Croker experiences the rush of emotions that accompany the opening whistle of an NRL match for the 300th time on Friday, that special feeling will be completely new for the player lining up opposite him.

The Raiders captain becomes just the second specialist centre after Josh Morris to reach a triple century of games. On the other hand, Warriors rookie Ali Leiataua will become the 39th player to debut in 2023.

It’s going to be a huge night in Canberra and the type of occasion that might be too much for some rookies, but in Leiataua’s case he’s already shown he can handle far more challenging events on a rugby league field.

Back in March of 2021 during a national U-20 game against Auckland in Christchurch, South Island player Christian Pese collapsed after suffering a stroke in the closing minutes.

Aged just 18 at the time, Leiataua – who despite lining up opposite him that day was close friends with Pese from their time together at King’s College in Auckland – was the first person to respond and sat with his mate while medical staff attended to him on the field.

The seriousness of Pese’s condition quickly became clear and he was later placed into a medically induced coma, before undergoing a complex procedure to relieve swelling from his brain, which at the time doctors weren’t sure he would survive.

After the rest of his teammates flew home to Auckland, Leiataua remained by Pese’s side for the next week, doing his best to support family members as they arrived in Christchurch.

“I remember Ali being the first person I saw when I came to on the field,” Pese told NRL.com.

“Ali wanted to stay until I got out of surgery, which they weren’t sure I was going to make it out of, and he said he wasn’t going to leave until he saw me come out.

“He’s a great friend and that’s why everyone that knows him loves him.

“We are real grateful for what he did for me.”

That character and empathy came as little surprise to most at the Warriors, many of whom had known Leiataua since he joined the club as a 14-year-old.

He gets his first name from his uncle, Warriors great Ali Lauitiiti, while older sister Onjeurlina was a top league prospect as well and played two seasons with the club in the NRLW.

In picking Leiataua ahead of veteran Brayden Wiliame for the Raiders game, Warriors coach Andrew Webster made a powerful statement about his belief in the 20-year-old.

“He’s been fantastic in reserve grade, he’s been their best player,” Webster said of Leiataua.

“He knows that we have got so much faith in him, that we want him to have a crack this week on such an occasion.

“Someone is having their 300th game and someone is having their debut, so that’s pretty cool.”

A debut coinciding with a 300th match for an opponent is uncommon at the best of times, but it’s extremely rare for it to occur in a direct positional match-up.

Rugby league historian David Middleton found the next closest examples were of props debuting off the bench while starting front-rowers celebrated their 300th games.

In 2015 Chris Grevsmuhl did it on Corey Parker’s special night, while a year earlier both Matt Lodge and Mitchell Moses debuted in Brent Kite’s 300th game.

Eels prop Tim Mannah also made his first appearance in the same game Steve Price brought up 300 while at the Warriors.

Such games are bound to be full of emotion, but Alan Ettles, who coached Leiataua in the Auckland U-20 side, doubts his former star will be worried.

“He will handle it fine; he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s been in some pressure environments before and excelled,” Ettles said.

“At King’s College he was playing before big crowds at a very young age and that will have given him some early insight into what it took to be a professional.

“He’s owned that centre position at [NSW] Cup level too. The Warriors haven’t had many NRL players in that squad, but the teams they have been playing have had a litany of NRL players, so he has had some class opposition to play against and has owned them.”

Meanwhile Pese – who had the last of his required post-stroke surgeries earlier this year and has since returned to rugby league – will be among the throng of family and friends watching on from TV sets in Auckland when Leiataua becomes Warrior #282.

“I’ll be super proud. I am buzzing,” Pese said.

“I’ll probably cry seeing it.”

Former captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is re-joining the One New Zealand Warriors in 2024 after signing a three-year contract to the end of the 2026 NRL season.

The One New Zealand Warriors granted Tuivasa-Sheck’s request for an early release to switch to rugby union late in the 2021 season but the club has today announced his return to rugby league for a second term with his hometown club.

“It’s hugely exciting knowing Roger is coming back to us, back to his home at Mount Smart Stadium,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George.

“When he went to rugby union he did so knowing he was always welcome back here if he wished to return to rugby league. We couldn’t be more delighted it’s happening.

“He’s popular with the players and a real fan favourite. It’s going to be so good seeing him back in our jersey.”

When Tuivasa-Sheck switched to rugby union he had made 111 appearances for the Warriors from 2016-2021 with his career tally standing at 195 games. He had also played 20 Tests for the Kiwis.

“Roger is such a high-quality person and leader who will add another layer to our squad with his enthusiasm, experience, skill and professionalism,” said Andrew McFadden, the club’s general manager recruitment, pathways and development.

“He’ll be a tremendous mentor for our younger players while he’ll also bring in a fresh perspective after spending time in rugby union.”

One New Zealand Warriors head coach Andrew Webster is looking forward to renewing his relationship with Tuivasa-Sheck.

“Roger came to the club in my second season as an assistant coach in 2016 and he had a huge impact on the squad,” said Webster.

“That first year was cut short by his ACL injury but it was brilliant working with him. I’m super excited knowing he’s coming back to the club.”

George said the club won’t be adding further comment to the signing announcement to enable Tuivasa-Sheck to focus on his rugby union commitments for the rest of the year.

  • In 2021 Tuivasa-Sheck became only the second player after Simon Mannering to lead the One New Zealand Warriors in 100 matches.
  • He was the first Warriors player to win the coveted Dally M Medal in 2018 and he was honoured with the top international player award – the Golden Boot – in 2019.
  • He is the only player to win the One New Zealand Warriors’ player of the year accolade in three consecutive seasons (2017, 2018 and 2019).
  • Tuivasa-Sheck’s switch to rugby union saw him make his Test debut for the All Blacks last year before adding two more appearances.

Written by Matt Manukuo

 

As seen on pmn.co.nz

Mackenzie Wiki, daughter of NRL legend Ruben Wiki, has made a historic deal signing with the Canberra Raiders women’s team.

Wiki will be the first daughter of a former NRL player, to sign with the same club of their parent.

The Cook Island international made her representative debut in last years Women’s Rugby League World Cup, where she picked up two tries in her three games.

Mackenzie, 21, says rugby league is a sport she developed a love for.

“This is only my second year of footy, I always played sevens, netball and I was a swimmer. When I was younger I never had the drive to play league, I was just watching Dad because I love footy.

“Getting into it last year I just found this love for it, actually being on the field rather than watching it.

“It’s an honour to follow my Dad at the same club. His first club was Raiders and now my first club is Raiders. It’s just surreal.”​

Mackenzie follows in her father, Ruben footsteps, who debuted for the Raiders 30 years ago. He says once Mackenzie dons the green jersey, it will be an emotional milestone for their family.

“Lost for words sorry it’s an emotional one – if that did come to the fray, it would be a very special moment for our family.

“Due to watching the kids being born here, watching their dad run around and it would be amazing to see her from the grandstand. She does suit the colour, it would be amazing.”

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

 

For the first time in a long time the walking, talking punching bag that is Shaun Johnson is experiencing a feeling he had almost forgotten was possible.

“I’m so happy and I love being happy,” Johnson said after his penalty goal helped the Warriors seal a drama-charged 32-30 win over Cronulla on Sunday.

Johnson has good reason to feel that way, given the Warriors are 4-1 to start the season for the first time since 2018 and sit in second spot on the NRL ladder.

He’s two points off the top of the Dally M leaderboard, too, and looks comfortable in his own skin managing Andrew Webster’s durable and dogged Warriors outfit around the park.

It’s a welcome change from a testing few years for the charismatic 32-year-old halfback.

He was shown the door by the Sharks at the end of 2021, got dropped by the Kiwis and had to be separated from wife Kayla and daughter Millah in a testing return season to the Warriors which was mostly spent in Australia.

“People didn’t understand how much that was affecting him, I saw his daughter grow up on the phone with him,” Warriors hooker Wayde Egan said.

“That took a massive toll on him, he’s back around the people he loves and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Johnson – 231 games and 13 seasons into an NRL career – finally feels like he is in a good space.

Part of that is linked to the fact that Webster has given him a clear vision of his playing style which has been a constant source of debate since his arrival in the NRL as a hot-stepping five-eighth.

“It’s the confidence that I get from the top down,” Johnson said.

“The most common line I hear (from the outside) is ‘you need to run the ball’.

“I’ll look at that and go ‘what do you f…ing mean? I’m not a front-rower’.

“It’s the clarity around the positions ‘Webby’ puts me in within our structure where I can run the ball. It’s my choice if I want to run the ball.”

When the going has got tough – like when they were 20-0 down against Cronulla – Johnson and his Warriors team have found a way to get themselves out of trouble.

“I love winning and working hard for something and achieving it,” he said.

“I love that I get to go home and see my wife and my daughter.

“The whole product is there for me right now, inside and outside of football. I haven’t had that in the past and people won’t get that.

“We get judged on 80 minutes, so the happiness for me is that we’re showcasing the hard work. That’s ultimately what I’m happy about … You can’t pay for happiness.”

 

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

 

It’s no wonder Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who’ll play fullback against the Sharks on Sunday, has one of the biggest smiles at the Warriors this season.

Everything is going good for the 27-year-old. He’s playing well for a winning team and enjoying being around his family away from the footy field.

But turn the clock back to a time last season and it was a very different story.

 

He picked up a high hamstring injury playing for the Raiders against the Rabbitohs in May, after being the team’s regular fullback up until then.

By July, and still injured, it was announced the Raiders would release him from the last year of his contract to join the Warriors in 2023.

 

When he got back on the footy field later that month, he made an appearance for the Raiders in the New South Wales Cup. And that’s where he stayed for the remainder of his time at the club.

He’d gone from being the first choice No 1, to on the outer at a club he’d given his all for, over four seasons.

While he’s enjoying life now, he reflects that it was a tough end to his time in Canberra.

“It was hard, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Nicoll-Klokstad said.

“Towards the back end of my stint there, I was really wanting to finish on a high with the Raiders and to not be able to get that opportunity was gutting.

“But we had a good captain in Jarrod Croker, who’s a legend of the club, and he was playing reserve grade at that time.

“He was coming into training every day with a smile on his face and trying to get the boys up for their game.

“If a legend of the club can go down to reserve grade with a smile on his face, come back and try to get the boys up, then what should make me any different?”

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart stuck with Xavier Savage as his fullback for the remainder of last season, and it raised the question whether Nicoll-Klokstad was being punished for wanting to return to the Warriors.

“It’s a hard one. Ricky Stuart picks his team on what he believes is best for the club and he thought it was better to go another way,” Nicoll-Klokstad said.

 

“There was nothing I could have done or said to have changed that. But I couldn’t kick stones around and I really enjoyed my time down at NSW Cup.

“There were a couple of boys there who are going to have a really good NRL career and it was cool to rub shoulders with them.”

Being stuck playing reserve grade footy meant it looked like Nicoll-Klokstad would have no chance of playing for the Kiwis at the World Cup at the end of last season.

With so many quality players available, New Zealand coach Michael Maguire could have easily looked elsewhere. But he wasn’t shaken in his belief that Nicoll-Klokstad was the man he wanted.

“It was a massive highlight,” Nicoll-Klokstad said.

“To play for the Kiwis is one thing, but to play for them at a World Cup is another.

“For myself, there was massive doubt. I didn’t think I’d be an option or even have a look in for the team.

“But I’d have to give full credit to Michael Maguire, he was massive for me throughout that whole stint, even that first time I dropped down to reserve grade.

 

“He was calling me, telling me to play my game and why I made the Kiwis team in the first place.

“He gave me that confidence I needed to kick on and I thought I did that, until I got injured.

“But once again, he came through and called me and we had the same conversations, for me to do what I could do and look after the process, then the outcome will take care of itself.”

If anyone had any doubts whether Nicoll-Klokstad was still able to play at the NRL level after being cast aside at the Raiders last year. Those fears quickly evaporated in his superb performance in the season opener, where he scored a try in the comeback win over the Knights.

He admits it hasn’t always been plain sailing over his career, but he’s gone through it all by giving everything he has and always trying to keep that smile on his face.

“If I’m being honest, it’s been a journey,” he said.

“There were times when you feel like your back is against the wall and you’re trying to fight your way out.

“But being back home has been so refreshing for me and being under Andrew Webster as well, myself and a lot of the boys have said we haven’t felt like we’ve learnt this much about training and playing footy in a long time.

“That’s exciting for us, we’re really enjoying the change and enjoying getting to learn more about the game as an individual player.”

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

 

Nearly 15 years after dragging his big brother Jesse to training in Melbourne, Kenny Bromwich was cooking him a celebration dinner ahead of his 300th NRL game.

The Dolphins skipper will notch the milestone against St George-Illawarra on Saturday, one he admits felt impossible to reach as a “late blooming” teenager well off the radar of clubs and managers.

It was Kenny who the Storm were keen on in 2008 with 19-year-old Jesse dragged along to training “just to watch”.

But Parramatta coach Brad Arthur, Melbourne’s under-20s coach at the time, urged him to put some boots on.

He impressed, was selected to play in their final game of that campaign and was then named NYC prop of the year when the Storm won the title the next season.

The pair then forged brilliant NRL careers in Melbourne and have hit the ground running for the 3-1 Dolphins in the new club’s exhilarating debut.

“We got asked the question in pre-season, ‘What are you most proud of’,” Jesse Bromwich said on Wednesday.

“In rugby league, it was that I’ve been able to spend my whole career playing alongside my brother.

“He got me my start … I never had a club [chasing him], wasn’t 16 and signed to a manager.

“I didn’t get a look-in until I was about 19. Grateful to turn up at the right place at the right time and took it with two hands and ran as far as I could.”

Kenny “got the Weber (BBQ) out and bought some expensive steaks and said a couple of words” at a family dinner on Tuesday night that touched the Dolphins skipper.

“We don’t really do formal things like that, so it was really special,” the 33-year-old captain said.

“I’m very proud … it means a hell of a lot to myself and my family.

“I’m super grateful to Melbourne Storm for giving me a chance and helping me become the person I wanted to become.

“And to the Redcliffe Dolphins for the opportunity … to try something different and do something really special for a different place and community.”

Meanwhile hooker Jeremy Marshall-King has extended his contract with the club for a further year, until 2025.

The New Zealand international will return from a two-week suspension this week, in a boost given his hot form in the opening fortnight.

As seen on https://www.newshub.co.nz

Former NZ Sevens representative Will Warbrick has scored his first try in the NRL, as Melbourne Storm outclassed Wests Tigers 24-12 at AAMI Park.

Warbrick, 25, traded sevens for rugby league at the end of 2021, after helping New Zealand to silver at the Tokyo Olympics.

After signing with the Storm and spending 2022 learning the game, the winger has started all Melbourne’s first-grade matches this year, after impressing supercoach Craig Bellamy in pre-season.

Warbrick has taken his next step towards becoming a regular first-teamer, holding off Tigers opposite Junior Tupou to cross in the corner for the opening try and his first points in the 13-man code.

As well as his try, Warbrick also made 21 runs for 202 metres, two linebreaks, two offloads, three tackles and three intercepts for his night’s work.

Further first half tries to fullback Nick Meaney, Justin Olam and Cameron Munster gave the Storm a 22-6 halftime lead, before an additional Meaney penalty were Melbourne’s only points in the second half.

For the Tigers, centre Asu Kepaoa and hooker Api Koroisau scored either side of halftime, but their efforts weren’t enough to seriously challenge the Storm on the night.

Victory moves Melbourne to eighth on the NRL ladder, with two wins and two defeats to start the 2023 season.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are bottom, with four defeats from four and winless since the end of last July.

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

At 32 years of age Shaun Johnson is the first to tell you the days of his dazzling footwork are mostly gone, but on Sunday he wound back the clock with a trademark run to score the match-winning try against the Bulldogs.

In a throwback to the type of plays he built his game around when he burst onto the NRL scene in the early 2010s, Johnson bamboozled the Canterbury-Bankstown defence with a dummy and swerve to score the final try in a 16-14 victory.

Mixed in with that flash of the old was plenty of the new ‘SJ’ too, which so far this year has included being a much-improved defender, and against the Dogs the No.7 had to pull off a string of crucial tackles to help prevent tries.

“I thought he owned the [big] moments today, Shaun. Defensively I thought he was great, he took the moments and he won us the game,” Warriors coach Andrew Webster said.

“Shaun’s toughness is what’s most important for us, the way he’s tackling, the way he handled [Viliame] Kikau today I thought was unbelievable. His marker work to go and chase people, if there’s a loose ball he’s fighting for it.

“His kicking game was the difference, and that try.”

Johnson made 20 tackles without a miss against the Bulldogs and his efforts in Round 4 sum up the improvements the club has made off the ball since Webster took over at the end of last year.

“I feel really confident in my defence, I feel like we are solving a lot collectively, which is helping me individually,” Johnson said.

“I have got an emphasis on my defence. It’s not long ago, I haven’t forgotten it, Round 1, the first try of the season was through my inside shoulder, so I know how quickly it can turn.

While there was plenty to like about the win, which sees the Warriors move to a 3-1 record, another sluggish start which saw them leak eight points in as many minutes to open the game has left Webster with plenty to think about ahead of this week’s trip to face the in-form Sharks.

The Warriors have now given up the first try in all four of their games this season.

“It’s like they all want that to happen so they get a bit of blood in the water or something,” Webster joked.

“If you don’t laugh you cry. It’s killing us. We have got to fix it because you just can’t compete like that.

“I actually don’t know [what to do to fix it]. I have addressed it every week, the boys have addressed it, they’ve got a positive attitude, it’s gonna have to click.”

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

Some of the locals reckon the secret sits in the ironsand deposits which dust this tiny village each time a breath of wind flows in from the Tasman Sea.

Others say it’s simply because there’s little else to do in this isolated part of the world except pick up a ball and play with your friends.

Whatever the secret is, the village of Tahāroa, home to a lone shop and roughly 171 people, punches well above its weight when it comes to producing elite sporting talent.

Last Saturday night, as Tahāroa exports Te Maire Martin and Taine Tuaupiki played key roles in the Warriors’ victory over the Cowboys, the town basked in the temporary glory of being the rugby league capital of the world.

‘Everyone here is whānau’

Most of the people who live in Tahāroa (or Tahaaroa in the local dialect) are directly related to Te Maire or Taine, who themselves are whānau (family).

If you somehow don’t share a bloodline, you know them and their families well enough that it feels like it anyway.

It’s no surprise then that the pair’s first game together, which was Taine’s NRL debut and Te Maire’s third game as a Warrior, was the talk of the town, and it quickly becomes clear how immensely proud they are of their boys.

“A place this small having two NRL players in the same team? It doesn’t happen,” Brendon King, the owner of the pub in neighbouring Kawhia tells NRL.com.

The Tuaupiki grandparents, Morris and Maureen, had a busy week fielding congratulatory calls after news broke of the impending debut for their mokopuna (grandchild).

At first it was a particularly strange experience for Morris, an old school no-nonsense type who made his living as a shearer and fitter-welder prior to retiring.

“We’ve been trying not to go out,” he tells NRL.com with a smile.

“They were all ringing us up, but you have got to be humble. But yeah, I was really rapt, I don’t say much, but I was really rapt.”

Even when both players moved to Australia in pursuit of their NRL dream years ago, the Tahāroa connection was vitally important, with Te Maire making a home away from home in Sydney with a shared uncle and aunty on the Tuaupiki side.

“His aunty and uncle, which is my aunty and uncle as well, they took me in when I was at the Tigers in the U-20s and I sort of needed that family support,” Te Maire says.

“I owe his family a lot. It’s good to see him get a game, he’s worked so hard for it.

“It’s a lot more special when you get to play for your home side or for your country, and that’s what it feels like for the Warriors.”

Te Maire and Taine aren’t the only top sporting talents to come from Tahāroa, with New Zealand women’s rugby union representative Tenika Willison and former Māori All Black Jackson Willison also hailing from the village.

A place made for rugby league

Sitting on the extreme limb of New Zealand’s West Coast, Tahāroa boasts the largest deposits of ironsand (titanomagnetite) in New Zealand, which is used in the production of steel.

The town is built on the mining business and prior to ironsand exploration starting in 1968 the town didn’t even have road access.

It employs most of the area’s working people and almost all of the local league team – which is named the Steelers in a nod to the industry.

In Tahāroa, rugby league is the game and has been since 2012 when the club was formed, with no other senior sport in the town.

This year, the Steelers will field two men’s sides and a women’s side, which is brimming with numbers to the point it could almost be split into two teams.

Not all of the players reside in Tahāroa or anywhere near the town for that matter, with many travelling up to an hour from neighbouring districts in order to represent the Steelers.

“It adds a bit more meaning playing here, playing for home,” Steelers prop Jack Maikuku says.

The geographical makeup of the squad, and the fact that they almost all work at the mine, makes organising the season a nightmare.

Players have to race each other to secure time off from work, with some inevitably missing out, and trainings are often not well attended, but still they make it work.

When a favourite son returned

After Te Maire Martin was cleared to play again, following the discovery of a brain bleed which forced him to step away from his NRL career in 2020, he could have gone to any rugby league club he wanted.

But he chose to stay in Tahāroa and play with his people, a decision which sums up how important this town and club are to the local people.

The return of a recent Kiwi international and NRL player to the club scene was obviously big news, and Martin carried a huge target with him each time he took the field, with plenty keen to get one over him.

They couldn’t and didn’t.

Martin was the best player in the local Waikato competition with ball in hand, and in defence he made a habit of humbling those who tried to steamroll him.

“It just brought out the best in him. He knew it was coming, his teammates knew it was coming, and he thrived because of it,” Steelers co-coach Cliff Willison says.

“He made us all better and elevated us when he was back here. From the players to the coaches.”

Maikuku, who played alongside Te Maire at the Steelers, says his one regret from that season was not being able to fully enjoy it.

“When I had the chance to play with him, I was actually too busy trying to catch my breath”, while adding that their star playmaker refused to divert from the high standards which got him to the NRL in the first place.

“He wasn’t shy to let us know when we got stuff wrong. It was good to pick his brain and learn about how it all works at NRL level.

“I looked at him playing for Brisbane when he went back to the NRL and thought ‘he was yelling at me a couple of months ago!’.

“It was mean to see him go back to the NRL from us, that’s a fairytale story that.”

This Sunday, at the Warriors’ first game in Auckland for the year, Tahāroa will be well represented in the crowd with a large section of both Te Maire and Taine’s whānau, and with that most of the town, heading up to cheer on their boys.

As seen https://www.newshub.co.nz

Indigenous former NRL players are calling for more cultural competency work across the game.

They say there is a lack of diversity within all levels of the code, and to make any impactful change there needs to be more indigenous people in leadership positions.

For instance, according to our research, there are currently no indigenous head coaches in the NRL men’s competition.

Seventeen teams are competing this year, with more than 500 players.

Newshub couldn’t get official numbers, but our research suggests around 65 percent are indigenous with 45 percent of that number Pasifika, 10 percent Māori, and 10 percent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

They carry the game, but cop an unhealthy dose of racism.

Former player Billy Moore was famously proud of his own background, but notoriously flippant when talking about NZ Warriors’ Polynesian flair, describing it as “coconut style”.

Even NRL staffers made racial comments like “dance monkey dance” about Tongan supporters.

NRL indigenous pathways manager Dean Widders said it’s got to stop.

“Racism comes back and it just strikes you back to the old times again,” he said.

“We haven’t gone anywhere and things are never going to change. The things that I battled through, things my grandparents and my ancestors battled through, will my grandkids, my great-grandkids have to battle through the same thing?

“That is frustrating as a black fella.”

Widders said players’ lives are so visible now, more needs to be done to support indigenous players.

“The game has gotten away with probably just having these immensely talented athletes,” he told Newshub.

“These gifted, gifted footballers that they’ve been able to overcome that and shine through.

“But now, rugby league, any sport is bigger than just what you do on the field now.

It comes with all the other baggage or all the other responsibilities that the player has to hold.”

Widders works alongside former dual international Timana Tahu, who now works as the NRL’s indigenous pathway manager.

“It’s just a matter of starting to identify this stuff,” he told Newshub.

“I think that’s why people like me are in these roles. They start identifying, researching and giving it to my commissioners and leaders.”

While there are lots of indigenous players, there are no head men’s coaches, and few NRL staff who are indigenous.

It’s an old problem, as one former chief executive put it after yet another racism scandal, when David Gallop decreed “there’s obviously racism everywhere”.

“How far you progress will come down to your ability to be able to handle stress and pressure off the field,” added Winders.

“Culture is a big part of that. Culture might not matter to a lot of people, to a lot of non-Indigenous people.

“But to us, that’s all that matters. Particularly when we come along hardships in particular, we come up against setbacks, and particularly when we are dealing with tough issues, culture is the only thing that’s gonna get us through that.”

When Apirana Pewhairangi arrived at Newcastle Knights as a 17-year-old, he told the manager in front of a team group that he was studying a bachelor of arts in Māori Knowledge.

“His response to me was ‘oh is that hangi making 101 and canoe making 101’,” he said.

“Everyone, the whole room broke out in laughter. I just remember feeling really, whakamā [embarrassed], really sad.

“I guess I sort of went into my shell and sort of realised that I couldn’t bring my culture and I couldn’t talk about my culture.”

Former NZ Kiwis captain Adam Blair grew up in Northland, steeped in Māoritanga. He left it behind to fit into the NRL – but it was a struggle.

“When I felt like the walls are caving in on me, or if there was pressure on me, my outlet was the bush, was the ocean because it just made me peaceful,” Blair told Newshub.

“It made me feel like I was grounded, I belong to something.”

Widders said more indigenous in NRL leadership roles would be proof that they’re valued.

“Our people are capable, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of access to those roles for our people.

“So there’s barriers and we need to find out what those barriers are and knock them down and then create a pathway for our people to come through.”

Knocking down barriers and creating a pathway – something that comes naturally on the field – but still waiting for its moment off the field.

As seen on stuff.co.nz

‘The Iceman’ is back in the form of Dolphins winger Jamayne Isaako, who has credited being coached by Wayne Bennett again for his superb start to the 2023 NRL season.

“I owe Wayne everything. He’s helped bring my confidence back,” Isaako told AAP.

The 26-year-old scored two tries in the Dolphins inaugural 28-18 win over the Sydney Roosters and landed four from four in the 20-14 victory over Canberra in wet and wild conditions at Redcliffe to be the competition’s leading point-scorer after two rounds with 24 points.

In Isaako’s breakout season under Bennett at the Broncos in 2018 he was Dally M rookie of the year and the competition’s leading point-scorer, making history to be the first player to achieve the double.

“Wayne has always backed me. We have a great connection,” Isaako told AAP in the Dolphins sheds after the Raiders win.

“Running out on the field I obviously have full confidence in my coach, but knowing the full confidence he has in me helps me play to the best of my ability.

“Obviously errors were a major concern with me, so Wayne wanted me to eliminate the errors out of my game.

“At the start of this season he had a couple of other boys ahead of me here at the Dolphins but I am not one to kick cans.

“I was willing to work hard and earn another opportunity and I got given my chance in round one.

“I knew I couldn’t disappoint. I went out there and did my best, and more than anything I am just glad we have been able to win both weeks.”

Isaako signed a three-year deal with the Dolphins in December 2021, when he was still at the Broncos, keeping him at the club until the end of 2025.

Three months later he joined the Gold Coast for the rest of 2022. Reuniting with Bennett was a dream come true.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen. I definitely thought that ship had sailed but the opportunity came up when Wayne got appointed head coach here at the Dolphins,” Isaako said.

“I was on my last year of a contract at the Broncos and I thought it was just meant to be.

“I am definitely happy to be back under Wayne again.”

As seen on NRL.com

The Roosters have been at the forefront of conversations around premiership favourites in 2023 but centre Joey Manu said his side must first prove to themselves that they’re worthy of being in that esteemed company.

You might not recognise him at first, with the 26-year-old star set to wear headgear in his return from a pre-season facial fracture, but Manu is determined to help his side bounce back from a nightmare season-opener against the Dolphins.

Injuries before the game and during it may have contributed to the loss but the Golden Boot winner said there’ll be no excuses come Saturday’s home clash with the Warriors.

“Everyone knows the end goal is to win and while we’ve got a good team here… we haven’t proven anything,” Manu said.

 

Manu: 'I'm looking forward to the year'

“There’s a few young boys here and there’s some great leaders but we’ve got to prove to ourselves first of the team we want to be.

“Just playing as a Rooster and playing that style of footy is what we’re trying to chase.

“We’ve had a few injuries and we’ve got a few young boys in there, but I think that’s when we play our best and that’s when we really go after it.”

Manu’s return offers the first look at a potentially dynamic centre pairing with young gun Joseph Suaali’i, who played on the wing in all of his 19 games last year but now shifts closer to the action.

 

Suaalii at home in the centres

The Kiwi International said the pair have forged a close friendship during their time at the club and have worked hard to help each other develop in the role.

“You see what he does on the field but he’s just scratching the surface there. He’s someone that wants to get better everyday and that’s what I really like about him,” Manu said.

“It’s good to see him in the centre position, I feel like it’s always been a solid position in rugby league where you can really battle opponents and I know he’ll be up there with the best centres so I look forward to seeing how he goes.

“I’m always trying to help him out and he’s definitely helping me out too, so it’s been good.”

After missing the Roosters’ sudden-death semi-final last year against Souths last year with a calf injury, Manu will be itching to don the famous red, white and blue for what will be just his second appearance at the refurbished Allianz Stadium.

And coach Robinson said the 2022 Dally M Centry of the Year has given the side every confidence he’s ready to make his mark on the 2023 season.

 

Manu the magnificent

“I know from what I’ve seen at training and the confidence he’s got from attacking the physical parts of the training,” Robinson told the media on Friday.

“I’ve seen him in the wrestle room, I’ve seen him on the field, so I feel like he’s ready to go.”

Robinson was adamant there’d be no major changes to the game plan despite some uncharacteristic errors in the loss to the Dolphins.

“We weren’t happy with the way we played on the weekend but the thing is you’ve got to fix some things but you don’t need to jump at shadows,” he said.

“You’ve got to hold your cool early in the season, fix some things and go after it.

“We’re still focused on how we want to start this year and that’s no different so don’t get too concerned too early about one game.”

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad made a wonderful return to the Warriors on Friday night, scoring and saving tries in the 20-12 win over the Knights in Wellington.

After spending the last four years at the Raiders, the fullback was outstanding in his team’s gritty win that showed new coach Andrew Webster has already stamped his mark at the club.

The 27-year-old was class at the back and made amends for an early error to put in a performance that was up there with the ones Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had in the No 1 jersey a couple of years ago.

This was the start of a new era for the Warriors, Webster wanted to toughen them up and get rid of the ‘same old Warriors’ mentality when it came to not being able to grind out wins.

The squad had been given an impressive overhaul, with experienced players brought in and going up against a side like the Knights, who aren’t expected to feature in the top eight this season, they were perfect opposition.

But there were 16 other teams feeling good about themselves before they played their first game this weekend and Warriors’ optimism didn’t last long.

Nicoll-Klokstad turned over the ball in the opening minute and Lachlan Fitzgibbon then brushed through a tackle by Shaun Johnson to score the opening try.

It was a scrappy first half, played in front of 16,676 spectators, with both teams making errors and struggling to get try scoring opportunities.

But with 15 minutes of the period to Mitch Barnett made a great break up the middle, Johnson threw a peach of a pass out wide to Ed Kosi, who was a late replacement for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, and scored in the corner.

A few minutes later the Warriors hit the lead with Bunty Afoa charging in after taking a ball from Wayde Egan at dummy half.

The Knights had back to back sets close to the Warriors’ line early in the second half and when the ball was moved to the left edge Hymel Hunt found himself with all the space he needed to score.

In the 51st minute the Warriors scored the best try of the game, with Brayden Wiliame finding some space to make a long run, then popping a pass to Nicoll-Klokstad, who still had plenty of ground to cover before reaching the try line.

Phoenix Crossland was sin binned in the 57th minute for not being square at the marker as the Warriors were under the Knights’ posts and from the next play Egan had his head slammed in a tackle and needed to go off for a HIA.

It was the fourth penalty in a row the Knights had given away inside their 10m line but they didn’t concede any points from it as on the last tackle Te Maire Martin grubbered the ball straight to Jackson Hastings.

It was then the Knights’ turn to have all the pressure and there was some outstanding goal line defence from Nicoll-Klokstad and Kosi to keep them out.

The Warriors sealed the game when Egan took on the defence from a ruck a few metres from the line and went over.

 

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

 

Raiders skipper Elliott Whitehead has full confidence in centre Seb Kris to handle the fullback position in Saturday’s season opener against the Cowboys.

With regular fullback Xavier Savage set to be sidelined for up to eight weeks with a broken jaw, coach Ricky Stuart had a choice between Kris and Kiwi veteran Jordan Rapana to wear the No.1 jersey.

After being named at centre for the Raiders’ second Pre-season Challenge match against Wests Tigers, Kris shifted to fullback but had limited opportunities to shine with five runs for 43 metres.

Kris enjoyed a fine season in the centres in 2022 with 14 tries and 12 line breaks but Whitehead is adamant the 23-year-old has found confidence training at fullback in recent weeks and can make a big impact with his talk.

“I thought he was really good in that first half, obviously a different role for him at fullback but he fits in there really well and the more he trains and plays there the more comfortable he’s going to get,” Whitehead told the media.

“He’s had another good week there at training and we’re making him talk a lot more so he’s getting a lot louder and more confident out the back.

“It is a hard role but he’s a fit kid and his talk is starting to get there now as well so you can feel him getting a lot more confident in that role. I’m sure he’ll fit in very well and get better and better each week.

 

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

 

Kiwis Te Maire Martin, Charnze Nicoll-Klockstad and Marata Niukore have been named in the starting line-up for the Warriors in their opening NRL clash for the season against the Newcastle Knights in Wellington on Friday night.

Martin has played 68 games for Penrith, North Queensland and Brisbane, but will make his Warriors NRL debut at Sky Stadium, teaming up with Shaun Johnson in the halves.

He is one of six off-season signings to make their first NRL appearances for the Warriors, while a seventh player, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, resumes his career for the club after 66 matches for the Canberra Raiders over the past four seasons.

The others are Brayden Wiliame, who will start in the centres after a career that has taken in matches for Parramatta, Manly Warringah and St George Illawarra; former Newcastle prop Mitchell Barnett; second rowers Jackson Ford, from St George Illawarra and Kiwis international Marata Niukore; and utility Dylan Walker, who has made 186 appearances for the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles.

 

As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz

 

Forget the flashy highlight reel tries, the freakish speed and step, Shaun Johnson, now 32, is a different player and person to that fresh-faced kid who lit the NRL up in 2011.

But the Warriors’ halfback doesn’t see that as him going backward, far from it, he believes 2023 – his 13th in the NRL – can be one of his best seasons yet, even if it’s in a different role from how he made his name.

Ahead of Friday’s season opener against the Newcastle Knights in Wellington, Johnson says he’s still growing and improving.

“Obviously with me, coming into the league I was the flairy, fast, steppy guy and now everyone’s going “he doesn’t have the speed,” Johnson said on Monday.

A fact Johnson, who re-joined his junior club from the Sharks last season, doesn’t debate but also refuses to be defined by.

“I think as you get a bit older you probably get a bit stronger in the head, you adjust your game, you learn to play to your strengths and what suits the team around you.”

One of the most polarising figures in the club’s history, Johnson’s talk of a big season will fall flat with some Warriors fans until they see some deeds to back up the words.

Last year was far from his best and the veteran of 227 NRL matches has, at times, been plagued by inconsistency, claims that he goes missing in games, and no longer takes the defensive line on with his running game – now the once electric speed isn’t quite what it was.

“That might frustrate people at times when they don’t see the highlights stuff that they want to see,” Johnson said.

“For me, I’m continuing to grow, I’m continuing to learn, just in different areas.”

Johnson, who confirmed he will be in the halves alongside Te Maire Martin when Andrew Webster names his first team on Tuesday, is no stranger to the weight of expectation.

“Those things get put on my shoulders most years but I think for myself, it’s a pretty privileged position to be in.

“And if that means for some reason it’s not the accolades or the highlights or whatever but we’re winning, that’s fine by me,” Johnson said.

“Whatever it takes to win.

“We don’t roll through these doors and want to improve every day not to win and that’s what we want to do.”

With maturity, the former Kiwis halfback now understands who his most important critics are.

“The only opinions I probably really care about are the ones of the boys downstairs, that’s all that really matters to me, so I’m driven to prove myself to them and I’m driven to prove to myself that I still belong in this arena.

“I’ve still got something to offer, because I’m still getting better.”

Webster has challenged Johnson to think about how he wants his legacy to be remembered at the club and it has inspired him to be hungry to re-establish himself at Mt Smart.

“It’s probably something I never thought about until the question was asked,” Johnson said.

“I never played my career thinking about how am I going to be remembered, I’ve just played it in the moment.”

A major part of Johnson’s 2023 confidence comes from having his first full pre-season in years, after missing the Kiwis squad for last year’s World Cup, and training injury free before Christmas. Factors that have seen him tip the scales at more than 2kg lighter than his playing weight in recent seasons.

There will always be doubters but Johnson said the support of genuine fans also matters to the playing group.

“We’ve got a real chance this year to re-establish ourselves back here and connect with our fans, which we haven’t been able to do and inspire some of the young Kiwi kids coming through.”

The much-maligned halfback has also copped plenty of criticism when it hasn’t always been warranted too.

Johnson was unexpectedly isolated from his family during the 2022 NRL season, including his wife Kayla and young daughter Millah, when the Warriors remained in Australia because of the surge in Covid-19 cases from the Delta variant.

“Being home, being around family, being able to be a dad, being able to see my mum, my dad, friends, all the stuff that you probably take for granted when you’ve never not had it, so it has certainly been the key factor,” Johnson said of his pre-season.

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich is hoping the emotion of yet another ‘first’ for the club will be behind his team when the side run out for their opening round match against the Roosters in Round 1.

While it was a long build up for fans to see their team finally hit the field, for the players that went down to the Gold Coast Titans in their Round 2 Pre-season Challenge match at Kayo Stadium, the preparations have been comparatively short, with full squad only training together for six weeks before the game.

“It felt surreal; felt like a long time coming,” Bromwich told media following the game about running out in front of a home crowd for the first time.

“I think it’s a bit of emotion running out (tonight), hopefully we’ve got that out of the way and we’ll look on to a very tough game against the Roosters.

“It’s our first game here and running out to a packed-out Kayo Stadium, it’s really nice, a lot of the fans are sticking around and you can see they all love the place and they’ve been a part of this place for a long time.

“We’re obviously the first NRL side, but this club has been here for a long time, so it’s nice to be part of a bit of history for this club.”

Since the start of pre-season training late last year, the Dolphins have been busy off of the field as well, with preparations for their inaugural season in the NRL involving more than just getting players on the field.

Their recent club season launch saw the official unveiling of Bromwich as their captain, while during this past week; club representatives and the full top squad of players attended the launch of Stan’s three-part documentary series ‘Dawn of the Dolphins’, outlining how the club came to be the first expansion club in the NRL since the Titans in 2007 and the build-up to their first official game.

Speaking at the launch, club CEO Terry Reader said the important thing for him was “the ability to tell our story, which isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about what went on to build a club inside 12 months”.

However, the club will be judged on their on-field performances and captain Bromwich didn’t shy away from the hard work needed following their 40-16 loss to the Gold Coast.

It seemed the occasion did overawe the players who were slow off the mark from the kick-off, allowing three quick tries within the opening 11 minutes in the game to put the whole side on the backfoot, with Jack Bostock’s try late in the first half preventing too many blushes.

“I didn’t like the way we started in both halves, we gave up too much possession with our penalties and our completion rate … I think a few of our guys did fairly well, but we played like a team where this was our first game together and I think it showed,” Bromwich said.

“Of course we need to be better; we’re not really happy with the way we performed, but we’ll take the positives out of what we’ve done.

“Obviously, there’s a few things we need to work on, some of our defence and our edge defence there was pretty leaky at times, but we’ll go back with the video and work extremely hard … to make that better.

“We had a decent pre-season, (but) obviously … we didn’t want to play that way and that’s not how we prepared to play.

“I think it probably wasn’t ideal for the club having six guys coming back after Christmas [following the Rugby League World Cup] and (we) probably would have liked to have gotten together before that, but it is what it is, that’s past.

“But we know what we need to work on and we’ll go and work really hard at doing that. It’s our first game together; we had a very short preseason together (and) we’re only going to get better from here.

“This this going to probably be a tough game to watch back, but one that’s needed and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

A Selwyn Cobbo hat-trick propelled the Indigenous All Stars to a 28-24 victory over a gutsy Māori All side in the Saturday’s NRL Harvey Norman All Stars clash in Rotorua.

Cobbo scored his three tries in the space of 12 minutes in the final quarter of the match to help his side overcome a Māori outfit who led for the opening 44 minutes and fought back to make it a one-score game with two minutes to go.

Halfback Nicho Hynes was at the heart of the win for Ronald Griffiths’ side, scoring a try and then setting one up either side of half-time to claim the Preston Campbell Medal as player of the match.

With the Māori leading 18-16 with 20 minutes to go, Cobbo took it upon himself to put his side ahead with a try that showed off all of his athletic talent, before grabbing another two in quick succession to put the result beyond doubt.

A spirited pre-match Indigenous war cry was met with a stunning haka – performed to a chorus of cheers from most of the 17,644 fans in attendance – it was a nervous drop from Cobbo on his first touch which gifted the Māori with the opening try.

After the Indigenous hit back through Tyrell Sloan, who grabbed onto a Brent Naden flick pass, Cobbo left a try begging when he dropped the ball with an open line in front of him.

The sides then traded converted tries to Jesse Arthars and Hynes to leave the Māori up 12-10 at the half-time, with Josh Kerr being sent to the sin bin just before the break for a high contact with his shoulder on James Fisher-Harris.

But the numerical disadvantage did little to hurt the Indigenous side, who scored four minutes into the second half, with Hynes again at the heart of it with a break which ended in Naden crossing.

Jordan Riki’s try stopped the rot temporarily, before Cobbo took over the game with his treble.

A late try to Preston Riki did reduce the gap to four, but wasn’t enough to change the result.

As seen on https://www.nrl.com

After appearing in 30 top-flight games in a season which stretched over 10 months for him last year, James Fisher-Harris could have been forgiven for thinking about giving this week’s NRL Harvey Norman All Stars clash a miss.

In total the 27-year-old’s workload last year included over 4300 running metres and 908 tackles, as he helped the Panthers to a second-straight Telstra Premiership title, in addition to earning representative honours with the Māori All Stars and Kiwis.

As seen on  https://www.stuff.co.nz

They may be no-names now, but by the end of the season these players could transform into stars of the NRL. Here are the 10 rookies set to make their NRL debut in 2023, with the first three having Kiwi origins.

1. Isaiya Katoa (Dolphins)

Position: Halfback

Age: 18

Wellington-born Katoa was at the centre of a tug-of-war between Penrith and the Dolphins last year. With Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary blocking his path, he opted to join Wayne Bennett on a lucrative deal for a player without NRL experience.

Katoa was banished from Penrith midway through last year after signing with the Dolphins, but returned in the finals series to lead the Panthers to premiership glory in the NSW Cup. Made his international debut for Tonga at the end of the year and showed that he has a long and bright future in the sport.

2. Siua Wong (Sydney Roosters)

Position: Back row

Age: 19

Almost got the chance to make his NRL debut last year, but the Roosters decided to hold him back. Wong was impressive in the lower grades in 2022 and showed he belongs on the big stage with an impressive outing for Fiji at the World Cup.

Born in Auckland, Wong is a rugby union product of Sydney’s Scots College. Wong started last season in SG Ball, leading the team to a grand final. He finished the year as one of the best players for the Bears in a disappointing NSW Cup finals campaign before heading over to England for the World Cup.

3. Karl Oloapu (Canterbury Bulldogs)

Position: Halfback

Age: 18

Raised in Wellington and a former Randwick junior, Oloapu recently signed a four-year deal to link up with the Bulldogs this year following a messy exit from the Brisbane Broncos.

Oloapu is so highly regarded that the Bulldogs forked out a reported $500,000 transfer fee to secure his services for this year. While Kyle Flanagan will be given first crack at the Canterbury No.7 jersey, the teen will join Khaled Rajab pushing for a spot later in the season.

Oloapu, who had been part of Brisbane’s system from the age of 13, refused to train late last year after what he claimed was a series of “broken promises”. New Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo recently convinced him his future was at Belmore.

4. Paul Alamoti (Canterbury Bulldogs)

Position: Centre

Age: 19

Canterbury have big expectations of Alamoti, who turned 19 a fortnight ago. The powerful centre is expected to start the season in Ciraldo’s strongest 13.

Alamoti graduated from Kogarah Marist, where he also excelled in basketball and athletics. The Bulldogs have struggled to produce local talent in recent seasons but Alamoti is straight out of local team the Milperra Colts. He’s been a star through all the lower grades, playing for NSW in the under 18’s Origin and also selected in the Australian Schoolboys merit team.

5. Jonah Pezet (Melbourne Storm)

Position: Halfback

Age: 20

This could be the one that got away for Newcastle. Jonah is the son of former NRL player Troy Pezet. He finished with four try assists for NSW in the under 19’s State of Origin game last year, playing a leading hand in the Blues’ 32-4 win.

Could make his NRL debut during the representative window. A star in the making. Was already contracted to Melbourne for 2023 but recently extended his deal to commit his future to the Storm until the end of 2025.

6. Blake Mozer (Brisbane Broncos)

Position: Hooker

Age: 20

Another product of Queensland’s Keebra Park State High School. There are high hopes for Mozer to be the club’s long-term No 9. It’s a position the Broncos appear to be short on depth with Billy Walters tipped to start the season at dummy-half.

Some say he’s a throwback to some of the game’s more creative hookers like Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith. While his footy IQ is at a high standard, he still has to improve his physicality. A work in progress but a player with a bright future. Played for Queensland in the under 19’s Origin last year.

7. Jesse McLean (Penrith Panthers)

Position: Fullback, centre, wing

Age: 18

The Australian Schoolboys star is expected to win one of Penrith’s last remaining top 30 spots in 2023. Everyone at Penrith is talking about the progression of the kid who can play fullback, wing or centre.

He won Penrith’s SG Ball Emerging Talent award last year, scoring a double in the grand final victory over the Roosters. While no one at Penrith wanted to lose Stephen Crichton, they also knew that McLean was coming through the ranks and will be vying for a regular spot in 2024.

His preferred position is fullback but he may have to wait a while judging by the performances of incumbent Dylan Edwards. McLean, a Blacktown and Doonside junior, is tipped to get his debut during the Origin period for the Panthers.

8. Latu Fainu (Manly Sea Eagles)

Position: Five-eighth

Age: 17

He won’t be able to play in the NRL until his 18th birthday on May 28, but the excitement around the younger brother of Manase Fainu is undeniable. While Josh Schuster will be given first crack at the No 6 jersey following the departure of Kieran Foran, there is pressure from underneath.

Manly knew from a young age that Fainu was destined for the NRL. It’s why they handed him a lucrative four-year deal as a 16-year-old. The Guildford junior is another one from the crop of western Sydney talent the Sea Eagles have snared in recent years.

9. Josh Feledy (Wests Tigers)

Position: Centre

Age: 18

Feledy struck up a combination with Latu Fainu at Manly, but decided to join the Wests Tigers this year. The Tigers are short on quality outside backs and have identified Feledy as a star of the future.

Unlikely to get time in the NRL the first half of the year, but we know coach Tim Sheens isn’t afraid to throw a teenager into the NRL.

He did it with Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall and could do it again with Feledy in 2023. Has speed to burn and an attacking game that will excite Tigers fans.

10. Harrison Hassett (Penrith Panthers)

Position: Back row

Age: 19

The Dolphins thought they had secured Hassett’s services in a major coup for the NRL’s newcomers. But at the 11th hour Hassett had a change of heart and decided to remain at the Panthers.

Penrith came in late with a revised offer to keep him at the club. While the Panthers have plenty of depth in the forwards, Hassett could come into calculations during the Origin period.

Hassett, a St Marys junior, was part of Penrith’s SG Ball-winning side last year, scoring six tries and racking up 29 tackle busts in 10 games.

25th January 2023

The first ever NRL Harvey Norman All Stars in New Zealand will feature Premiership and representative stars alongside some of the best up-and-coming talent in the men’s and women’s games, as the NRL today announced the teams for the showcase at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday 11 February.

The home crowd will see Māori superstars including Joseph Manu, James Fisher-Harris, Joseph Tapine and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, up against visiting Indigenous All Stars including Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr, Nicho Hynes and Selwyn Cobbo.

The Harvey Norman Women’s All Stars will feature Māori stars including Kennedy Cherrington, Zahara Temara and Olivia Kernick, taking on an Indigenous line-up that includes the likes of Shaylee Bent, Caitlan Johnston and Jaime Chapman.

The women’s and men’s matches will follow a curtain-raiser between the Māori and Indigenous All Stars Touch Football teams.

Tickets are available from NZD$40 for adults and NZD$85 for families via nrl.com/tickets.

 

 

Maori All Stars (Men)

Jesse Arthars

Daejarn Asi

Nelson Asofa-Solomona

Zach Dockar-Clay

James Fisher-Harris

Corey Harawira-Naera

Morgan Harper

Royce Hunt

Joseph Manu

Zane Musgrove

Briton Nikora

Hayze Perham

Adam Pompey

Jordan Rapana

Jordan Riki

Joseph Tapine

Starford Toa

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

Dylan Walker

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Coach: Ben Gardiner

Indigenous All Stars (Men)

Josh Addo-Carr

Bailey Butler

Selwyn Cobbo

Tyrell Fuimaono

J’maine Hopgood

Nicho Hynes

Ryan James

Josh Kerr

Ezra Mam

Latrell Mitchell

Shaquai Mitchell

Kierran Moseley

Brent Naden

Tyrone Peachey

Tyrell Sloan

Chris Smith

Will Smith

Jamayne Taunoa-Brown

Cody Walker

Jack Wighton

Coach: Ronald Griffiths

 

 

 

Maori All Stars (Women)

Brooke Anderson

Destiny Brill

Gayle Broughton

Harata Butler

Kahu Cassidy

Kennedy Cherrington

Laikha Clarke

Zali Fay

Mya Hill-Moana

Olivia Kernick

Shannon Mato

Capri Paekau

Aaliyah Paki

Shanice Parker

Ashleigh Quinlan

Tiana Raftstrand-Smith

Jasmin Strange

Zahara Temara

Kailey Thompson

Amy Turner

Coach: Keith Hanley

 

 

Indigenous All Stars (Women)

Essay Banu

Shaylee Bent

Jaime Chapman

Bree Chester

Kirra Dibb

Quincy Dodd

Taliah Fuimaono

Tallisha Harden

Caitlan Johnston

Keilee Joseph

Bobbi Law

Mia Middleton

Sareka Mooka

Jasmine Peters

Kaitlyn Phillips

Shaniah Power

Jada Taylor

Tahlulah Tillett

Coach: Ben Jeffries

 

All Stars matches will be broadcast live on the Nine Network, Fox League, Kayo and Sky Sport NZ.

19 January 2023

Adam Blair knows from personal experience the significance of wearing the Māori jersey and wants to see a full house for the NRL Harvey Norman All Stars: Māori v Indigenous clash in Rotorua in February.

The former Kiwi and NZ Māori player and fellow former Kiwi league star, Isaac Luke, were recently announced as assistant coaches, alongside head coach Benny Gardiner, for the Māori All Stars.

Blair who hails from Te Tai Tokerau, played for 14 years in the NRL and has worn both the Kiwi and Māori jerseys says he is looking forward to returning to Rotorua, this time as assistant coach. Both he and Luke played for the Kiwis in the one-off test against Tonga in Rotorua in 2009.

“First and foremost, I’m really privileged and honoured to be named as an assistant coach. From afar, I have always wanted to be a part of it, once I had finished up playing. I’ve played a couple of times for the Māori All Stars and I really loved my time back then.

“But for me now [as an assistant coach], it is actually the most nervous I have been in a long time because it has become a reality to coach, and to coach Māori at this level is what I have always wanted to do.”

Blair is encouraging Rotorua locals to get behind the event and come support all the teams taking part, especially the Indigenous All Stars.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring this game home and display our people, our culture and what it means to us. I know the Indigenous All Stars are really excited to come over as well and experience our culture.”

New Zealand Māori Rugby League chairman John Devonshire says the Harvey Norman NRL All-Stars will “kick 2023 off in a positive light”.

The exciting clash of cultures between New Zealand Māori and the Australian Indigenous men’s and women’s teams is happening on Saturday, 11 February 2023, at the Rotorua International Stadium.

It will be the first time the event will take place outside of Australia, and Devonshire says Rotorua was the perfect location.

“You could ask any league player or supporter from Rotorua the significance of having a game like this in Rotorua. It’s a great opportunity and a game of this magnitude is good for the city.

Devonshire, whose whakapapa is Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa says the recent appointments of Blair and Luke showed that New Zealand Māori Rugby League was looking to the future.

“There are no more passionate Māori warriors than these two and they will soak it up and they will learn. The other beauty of Benny’s appointment is that they will learn from Benny and, in terms of a succession plan, they are it.”

Coaches for the Māori women’s indigenous team are Keith Hanley (Ngāpuhi) assisted by John Strange (Ngāpuhi), who was with the Sydney Roosters NRLW, and manager Stephaine Spooner (Ngāti Kahungunu).

Prior to the kick-off of the main event between the Aotearoa New Zealand Māori versus Australian Indigenous All Stars, fans will be treated to a mixed touch game between the Māori All Stars and Australian Indigenous All Stars as well as a league clash between the New Zealand Māori Women and the Australian Indigenous Women’s All Stars.

Details can be found here.

Gates open at 1.15pm and the main game kicks-off at 5.45pm. Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster click here.

By Sam Ackerman as seen in Bay of Plenty Times

One of the most promising young sporting talents in the Bay of Plenty is about to leave the country.

This isn’t a story about a disgruntled athlete throwing his toys and taking his talents elsewhere – rather a grateful one who plans to represent the region as he chases his dreams.

Fifteen-year-old Marley Igasan is taking up a contract with NRL heavy hitters the Brisbane Broncos as part of its contracted elite development squad, his recruitment putting him on a pathway towards rugby league’s big time.

It wasn’t a hard decision from a sporting point of view, but it was from a personal perspective.

“I look at it as a bit of inspiration,” Igasan said. “It’s a big privilege to be able to say that I’m from Tauranga and make all my friends and family proud that I’ve achieved this goal from here.

“In a way, I think I represent all the Kiwi kids that want to go over there and play footy. So it’s a good opportunity for me to take that one on my back. It’s just good to represent where you’re from and I plan to never forget that.”

Igasan has crammed much into the last six years since his parents, James and Michelle, decided to bring their son and his sister Piper ‘home’.

Igasan said being in Tauranga allowed him to connect with his culture and fully understand who he is, where he comes from, and what he represents.

“I’ve always been proud of being Māori and a Kiwi but to be surrounded by that culture is something that will always stay with me.”

Born in New Zealand but raised in Perth, Igasan has been playing league since he was 4. Since relocating to his adopted province in 2017, he has become embedded in the Coastline Rugby League environment. Igasan has pulled on the jerseys of the Otūmoetai Eels, the Whalers, and the Upper Central Stallions, going on to be crowned the district’s supreme player of the year.

Igasan (Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Tahu) has grabbed every opportunity to represent his heritage. For the past two years, he was named MVP in his age grade at the Rangatahi Māori Rugby League Tournament while starring for the Pikiao Warriors, going on to co-captain the NZ Māori U15 team at the Pasifika Youth Cup last year.

He also co-captained the Aotearoa Whānui U16 side (made up of players South of the Bombays) that competed against the Auckland Invitational squad.

All this in between jetting back and forward across the Tasman to train with and finally represent the Broncos elite development squad.

Some junior athletes stand out with flashy skills or blistering pace. What sets Igasan apart is his versatility and on-field work ethic.

While comfortable running attacking plays from within the halves and at hooker, his unrelenting defensive drive has also seen him spend time at prop – though it would appear the number 13 jersey is the best fit to mix his ball-playing skills with his thirst for physicality.

His oval ball skills aren’t limited to the 13-man code. Igasan, a former BOP Roller Mills Rugby rep, made the Mount Maunganui College 1st XV not long after his 15th birthday, helping them to the Baywide championship in 2022.

The sportsman hardly sat idle during his Tauranga summers.

A qualified lifeguard, you can find Igasan’s name engraved on numerous awards at the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifesaving Club, as well as racking up a string of national titles at the country’s mecca of junior surf lifesaving, the Oceans Festival. The Igasan siblings have also been two of the prominent athletes featured in TVNZ’s Life Savers series.

He also works as a rippa rugby referee and volleyball coach and said his parents raised him right.

“They’ve taught me to use my manners and be confident but not cocky. I owe a lot to them, for helping me be a good sportsman and good person in general.

“They’ve always told me to keep putting in the mahi, to never stop unless you want to quit, which in our family is not really a thing to do.”

It’s also part of what drew the Broncos – as well as interest from other clubs like the powerhouse Sydney Roosters and NRL newcomers the Dolphins – to Igasan in the first place. Broncos academy manager Mick Kennedy explained why Igasan’s signature has been so highly sought after.

“Marley’s not only a talented kid, but he has high attention to detail. He does a lot of clean-up work, particularly defensively, that goes unnoticed a lot of the time but certainly not unnoticed to his teammates.

“The main attribute that attracted me to Marley is his competitiveness, his will to win out on the field. Every time he steps on the field, he’s doing everything he possibly can to win the game for his team. Players with those types of attributes generally do really well.

“He’s a nice, humble young man – as long as he’s prepared to work hard over the next few years, I’m sure he’ll have a really good opportunity.”

That shouldn’t be an issue for Igasan, never one to complain about a heavy workload.

In a week in June, Igasan played four games in two days at the Māori tournament in Rotorua, drove to Auckland to fly to Brisbane for physical conditioning testing before the return trip 24 hours later, then straight back to Tauranga for school the next day. On top of that, he squeezed in three rugby training sessions and, oh, a game of social basketball.

And it would have been more had bad weather not cancelled his club game.

Igasan was buzzing about joining the Broncos development system that has the legacy of turning juniors into superstars.

“You see all the photos on the wall of premierships won with the likes of Darren Lockyer and you look at the honours board with all of the players you looked up to when you were growing up. It’s amazing, it’s a real professional place to be.”

So highly is Igasan regarded that the Broncos were prepared to allow him to stay based in Tauranga, commuting Trans Tasman regularly for testings, training and games while following a personalised training programme.

But the opportunity to get more regular quality football and have more tournaments at his disposal was one Igasan knew he needed to take – and the sacrifice of moving with his family one they were willing to make.

“The long-term goal is to make it into the NRL and have a really good career but also to be a good person while doing that, finding a way to support different charities and the community. But on the rugby league front, hopefully I will give it a good crack and be one of the greats to come from New Zealand.”

That sounds like a lofty and bold ambition, but Igasan has already shown he doesn’t sit around waiting for his goals to happen. He’s willing to do what it takes to make them a reality.

February 12th 2022

as seen on NRL.com

A captain’s knock from Joe Tapine has spearheaded the Māori All Stars to a 16-10 win over the Indigenous All Stars at CommBank Stadium on Saturday night.

Tapine revelled in the responsibility handed to him by Maori coach David Kidwell, scoring a crucial try and running for 125 metres with seven tackle breaks.

The match was played in heavy rain but it did nothing to detract from the intensity as both packs muscled up early before the Indigenous All Stars struck first through Jesse Ramien.

The try was set up by a rampaging David Fifita, who busted the Maori defence wide open down the right and found Ramien on the inside for 6-0. 

Sensational lead-up work by middle forwards James Fisher-Harris and Joe Tapine led to the Maoris’ opening four-pointer to the elusive Kodi Nikorima in the 25th minute and eight minutes later they had a second through Esan Marsters.

Indigenous hooker Reuben Cotter looked certain to level the scores at 10-10 on the 50-minute mark but lost the ball as he stretched out to plant it down. Three minutes later Josh Curran also went close for the Indigenous side when he put his body on the line trying to ground a Nicho Hynes grubber but desperate Maori defence denied him.

The Maori stretched their lead to 16-6 when Tapine produced some neat footwork close to the line and slammed the ball down but exciting young Dragon Tyrell Sloan closed the gap again when he scored off another pinpoint Hynes grubber.

A mistake by Morgan Harper handed the Indigenous side one last chance to salvage a draw but a desperation defensive play by Reimis Smith denied Laurie Daley’s side.

Match Snapshot

Players from both sides blew off some steam in the opening quarter as tensions boiled over on two occasions. The All Stars game is always high on emotion and right from the haka and the war cry through to the final whistle the contest was a beauty and the perfect way to launch the season. 

  • Jordan Rapana was placed on report in the 13th minute for a shoulder charge on David Fifita and then found himself in the sin bin for a second shoulder charge on the stroke of quarter-time. He was joined in the bin by Indigenous forward Andrew Fifita who was marched for running in to join the melee. Jesse Ramien became the third player binned when he committed a professional foul in the final quarter.
  • Kenny Bromwich showed why he’ll be a sensational pick up for new boys the Dolphins with a superb offload to Patrick Herbert who sent it on to Esan Marsters for a Maori try.
  • In his comeback game from a career-threatening throat injury, Andrew Fifita equalled Joel Thompson’s record of seven appearances for the Indigenous All Stars. 
  • Will Smith was forced from the field in the third quarter for a HIA and did not return for the Indigenous All Stars.
  • Patrick Herbert produced a stormer for the Maori to bury the demons of his fateful decision not to pass in the dying seconds of last year’s final against the Roosters.

Play of the Game

David Fifita was at his damaging best in the opening quarter, leaving Patrick Herbert, Dylan Walker and Chanel Harris-Tavita in his wake as he raced 45 metres up field and sent a perfectly timed pass inside for Jesse Ramien to open the scoring. A nice pass from new Shark Nicho Hynes put Fifita into space and the 20-year-old made a fearsome sight as he powered down the right side.

 

 

What’s Next

The NRL season is under a month away and preparations ramp up with a series of trial games starting next Friday with a double-header at Leichhardt Oval featuring the Roosters taking on the Raiders followed by the Sea Eagles against Wests Tigers. On Saturday the Storm and Warriors will raise funds for the victims of the Tongan volcanic eruptions and tsunami in January when they square off at Casey Fields in Melbourne, while the Cowboys and Rabbitohs play in Cairns and the Titans face the Broncos on the Gold Coast. On Sunday it’s a double-header at CommBank Stadium with the Panthers v Sharks followed by Eels v Dragons and rounding out a huge weekend of trials the Knights meet the Bulldogs in Newcastle on Monday.

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February 12th 2022

Two tries from Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly were unable to overcome a strong Indigenous All Stars side, as the Māori All Stars went down 18-8 at CommBank Stadium on Saturday night.

After suffering a heavy 24-0 defeat in last year’s clash the Indigenous side took one back squaring the ledger at 2-2 across the four years of the contest.

A runaway try by Chapman in the second quarter gave the Indigenous side a 6-0 lead before Bo Vette-Welsh produced a dazzling 30-metre burst and found Tiana Raftstrand-Smith who sent the final pass to Stephens-Daly for the Maoris’ opening try.

Chapman had her second just after half-time when Upton produced a superb cut-out pass and the Indigenous side had a 12-4 lead thanks to Kirra Dibb’s second conversion.

Debutante Stephens Daly then grabbed a double of her own courtesy of a brilliant cut-out pass by Vette-Welsh and the Maori were back within four points.

A barnstorming try from close range for Eels prop Tommaya Kelly-Sines put the game beyond doubt for the Indigenous side as they made it 18-8.

Match Snapshot

The speedsters may take all the glory but it was upfront where the foundation was laid with Caitlan Johnston (10 runs for 86 metres) and Keilee Joseph (10 runs for 75 metres) leading the way for the winners while Shannon Mato (22 runs for 191 metres) was inspirational for the Maori.

  • No.1 guns Tamika Upton and Bo Vette-Welsh dug deep into their bag of tricks with try assists, tackle breaks and countless reminders of their class in an intriguing duel.
  • Indigenous hooker Quincy Dodd got through a power of work in the middle with 26 tackles and was a key factor in the victory while Kennedy Cherrington racked up 30 tackles for the Maori.
  • Caitlan Johnston gave her Indigenous team-mates a massive lift during the first half when she powered across in cover defence to bundle rival prop Shannon Mato into touch. Johnston looks set for a huge NRLW season with the Knights.
  • The online defence by the Indigenous team as the Maori launched a number of late raids was inspirational.
  • Chapman’s dazzling debut was rewarded with the Trish Hina Medal as the  player of the match.

 

What They Said

“The girls have bonded and created some unity and they did it for themselves and for their mob and their families. It’s been a massive week and to cap it off like that and how they defended, I’m pretty proud as a coach. The defence in the women’s game is just getting better and better.”  – Indigenous All Stars coach Ben Jeffries

“What a game. What a week. It was such an awesome way to celebrate two beautiful cultures and we lapped up every second of it. This moment here is more than just a game, to celebrate our heritage and our culture, and I want to congratulate the Indigenous girls on one hell of a match, you girls came out roaring and full of fire.” – Māori captain Corban Baxter at the post-match presentation.

Press Conference: Maori Women’s v Indigenous Women’s, 2022

Press Conference: Maori Women’s v Indigenous Women’s, 2022

What’s Next

For the majority of players who strutted their stuff in Sydney tonight it’s on to round one of the NRLW season, which kicks off with a massive triple-header at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Sunday, February 27.

02 February 2022

The Māori All-Stars have named a star-studded line-up led by Dally M Prop of the Year, Premiership winner, and Kiwi #801 James Fisher-Harris. Jayden Nikorima was also named, completing a redemption story that saw him last play first-grade rugby league back in 2017.

It’s a family affair as Jayden is set to line up alongside his brother and Kiwi international Kodi Nikorima (Kiwi #793).

Although injury and suspension have forced changes to each team, this year’s matchup features a diverse array of experience and exciting young talent.

Kiwi #818 Briton Nikora retains his place alongside Cronulla teammate Royce Hunt. The Shire-based team boasts the most participants in the All-Star contest with seven, including Nico Hynes, Will Kennedy, Jesse Ramien, Braydon Trindall, and Andrew Fifita, who will line for the Indigenous team.

The Canberra pairing of Joseph Tapine (Kiwi #800) and Jordan Rapana (Kiwi #798) return, as well as the experienced duo of Kenny Bromwich (Kiwi #796) and Kevin Proctor (Kiwi #771). Esan Marsters is again included in the squad while Warrior’s Jazz Tevaga adds to the big-name power of the Māori outfit, playing in his debut All-Star game.

This year’s contest will also feature debuts from Chanel Harris-Tavita, Morgan Harper, Erin Clark and Reimis Smith, all selected in Kiwis 2021 wider squad. Another player named in the wider squad, Patrick Herbert will be making consecutive appearances for the Māori team.

Head coach David Kidwell has also named Porirua’s exciting powerhouse TC Robati, making his first appearance in the green and white jersey.

Kidwell spoke on the squad, “I’m so thankful to have a group of players who are honoured to represent their culture.”

“This is such an important week for the game, and our players recognise this. They will all do what they can to represent themselves, their whanau and their iwi.”

Both teams clash on February 12th at Sydney’s CommBank Stadium. Catch all the action live on SkySport.

Māori All Stars team:

Briton Nikora (Kiwi #818)

Chanel Harris-Tavita

Dylan Walker

Erin Clark

Esan Marsters (Kiwi #809)

James Fisher-Harris (Kiwi #801)

Jayden Nikorima

Jazz Tevaga

Jordan Rapana (Kiwi #798)

Joseph Tapine (Kiwi #800)

Kenny Bromwich (Kiwi #796)

Kevin Proctor (Kiwi #771)

Kodi Nikorima (Kiwi #793)

Morgan Harper

Pasami Saulo

Patrick Herbert

Reimis Smith

Royce Hunt

TC Robati

Tuku Hau Tapuha

Backrower Jordan Riki will make his NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos against the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday night.

Riki, a former Junior Kiwis Captain, was impressive for the Maori All Stars earlier this year after being a surprise call-up for the 30-16 win over the Indigenous All Stars.

The 20-year-old from Christchurch is a physical and strong ball runner, with an offload and footwork. Riki started as a Hornby Panthers junior and a star player for St Thomas of Canterbury with a long list of NZRL honors including 2016 NZ 16s Player of the Year. Brisbane Broncos eventually signed Riki after immense competition in recruiting him after finishing school in 2017, Riki played a game of Intrust Super Cup for Norths Devils in 2018 before playing 15 games in 2019. Riki started at lock for the Devils in their only game this year, after an unexpected call up to the Aotearoa Maori team.

Riki joins Daejan Asi, Emry Pere, Asu Kepaoa, Connelly Lemuelu, Eliesa Katoa, Jaxson Paulo and Jackson Ferris as New Zealand NRL debutants this season.

Brandon Smith stamped himself as a player to watch in 2020 with a stunning two-try performance to lead the New Zealand Maori to a stunning 30-16 come-from-behind victory over the Indigenous All Stars on the Gold Coast.

The Kiwi Test hooker, who plays understudy to 400-game legend Cameron Smith at the Melbourne Storm, showed his time in the shadows is clearly over with a spirited effort to snatch at Cbus Super Stadium.

 

Davis-Welsh, Harden lead Indigenous Women’s All Stars to glory

Indigenous All Stars winger Nakia Davis-Welsh turned in a blinder to inspire a 10-4 win over the Maori Ferns after a triumphant return to the team she debuted for as a 16-year-old.

Maori All Stars coach David Kidwell has selected an imposing pack to lock horns with the talented Indigenous team at Cbus Super Stadium on February 22.

The Maori side shouldn’t lack go-forward with Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Adam Blair, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, James Tamou, Kevin Proctor, Briton Nikora, Zane Tetevano and Corey Harawira-Naera among an elite crop of big men chosen.

“We wanted to have a bit of a narrative about being powerful, fast and dynamic. I think the team reflects that,” Kidwell told NRL.com.

The backline packs plenty of punch too. The dazzling Kalyn Ponga will play his natural position of fullback after struggling to impose himself on the game at five-eighth last year in a 34-14 loss.

“I think that’s where he plays his best footy, he can sweep both sides of the field, he can inject himself where he needs to,” Kidwell said of Ponga.

“Touching on that forward pack, he can sniff around for the offload. Talking to him, he’s really excited. He doesn’t have to worry about leading the team around.”

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Bailey Simonsson appear as the likely wingers, while Dylan Walker, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Brad Takairangi and Esan Marsters are centre options.

Marsters, who had off-season ankle surgery, is in doubt to play and discussions with the Cowboys medical staff about his fitness are ongoing.

Given Benji Marshall made himself unavailable for Maori selection to prepare for the upcoming NRL season with Wests Tigers, Jahrome Hughes and Kodi Nikorima will combine in the halves.

Brandon Smith and the experienced Issac Luke will share the hooking duties.

Raiders duo Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Joseph Tapine were initially named but were withdrawn.

Kidwell, who has taken over the coaching duties from Stacey Jones, is elated to be involved with such a special fixture and believes his troops can match the Indigenous team in the entertainment stakes.

“We’re going to play a bit of an expansive style of football. I thought the Indigenous team, with the experience of having played it for nine years, really caught us off guard last year.

“It’s a different concept, it’s a different way of playing football … [But] you still have to execute and have a high completion rate, so it’s about finding that balance.”

Kidwell hasn’t settled on a captain but he said incumbent skipper Adam Blair “epitomises what the week’s about.”

He added: “I’ve got some great leaders there and we’ll talk about who’s going to captain the side. But whoever does, it’s going to be a great honour.”

Kidwell considered results from an online fan poll before settling on his final squad.

In the women’s All Stars clash the star-studded Maori side will feature Kiwi Ferns Krystal Rota, Raecene McGregor and Kiana Takairangi as well as Jillaroos Corban McGregor and Botille Vette-Welsh.

Playmaker McGregor was part of the Brisbane side which stormed to victory in the NRLW grand final last October, scoring a try in the 30-6 triumph.

After playing second fiddle to McGregor in the NRLW decider, Dragons youngster Maddison Weatherall will line up alongside the Broncos star for the Maoris.

Coached by Rusty Matua the side features 10 players with NRLW experience.

Maori Women’s All Stars: Harata Butler, Sarina Clark, Tanika-Jazz Noble-Bell, Laishon Jones, Amber Kani, Kerehitina Matua, Raecene McGregor, Corban McGregor, Capri Paekau, Krystal Rota, Christyl Stowers, Kiana Takairangi, Jonsal Tautari, Botille Vette-Welsh, Maddison Weatherall, Geneva Webber, Kathleen Wharton, Kat Wira-Kohu.

Troy Whittaker – NRL.com

Former Kiwi Ferns captain and NZRL Wellbeing and Women’s Development Manager, Luisa Avaiki, has been named as head coach of the Warriors’ new NRL women’s team.

The Warriors were confirmed as one of four clubs in the new NRL women’s competition on Tuesday and appointed Avaiki on Wednesday.

Avaiki captained the Kiwi Ferns to victory in two of the first three women’s World Cup tournaments in 2003 and 2008 and was a part of the Kiwi Ferns team that won the inaugural World Cup. Her international career stretched from 1995-2009.

She has been prominent in coaching since her retirement from playing, and has worked for the Melbourne Storm as their games development officer. She has been the New Zealand Rugby League’s well-being and women’s development manager since 2016.

Avaiki, who has also represented Samoa in rugby league, rugby union and touch, said she was humbled when given the opportunity to become the club’s first NRL women’s coach. The Warriors believe she is the first woman to have a coaching position with an NRL club.

The competition, which will also involve the Sydney Roosters, St George-Illawarra Dragons and Brisbane Broncos, will start later this year.

“Women’s rugby league has a long history in New Zealand but the introduction of this competition has taken our game to a whole new level,” she said.

“It’s a huge honour having the chance to take up this role.”

Warriors general manager of football Brian Smith said the club was thrilled to appoint Avaiki.

“It was a huge day being named as one of the four foundation clubs yesterday and it’s even more exciting to be able to announce Luisa’s appointment today. We were keen to move on this quickly as we seek to build our team.

“The new competition is taking the club and the women’s game into a completely new era which we’re so proud to a part of.”

Warriors CEO Cameron George, head coach Stephen Kearney, Smith and Avaiki met prospective players for the women’s team at Mount Smart Stadium on Wednesday night.

“For us, our women’s team will be just like our other three sides in the NRL, the Intrust Super Premiership and the Jersey Flegg Cup,” said George.

“They’ll strive to attain the same values we have for the club’s other teams.

“We are all about winning, about having a crack every time we play and making our members and fans proud.”

The NRL is set to play a Telstra Premiership match in the United States as early as next year.

Multiple media reports say the game is set to be played in the US, with planning already underway to make it a reality.

It is likely that the two sides who play in the US would be given extended breaks on either side of the long trip in order to deal with the minimum 12-hour flight players would face in both directions.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg told Fairfax Media that planning was well advanced.

“We’re in discussions about that now,” Greenberg said. “It’s a big landing process on a number of fronts. You need to work with the broadcasters, you’ve also got to work through travel, recovery. But it’s certainly on our radar.

“The destinations in North America are available in a good broadcast timeslot, so that’s what we’re looking at. The ball is in our court in regards to scheduling and player workload. We’re actively working on that now for 2019 and 2020. Next year we could have teams playing for points in America.”

If the game was played on the West Coast means cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and possibly even Las Vegas would be in the mix.

As far as stadiums go, the NRL will have a plethora to choose from.

From the 90,000 seat Rose Bowl in Los Angeles to dozens of smaller rectangular venues used by both professional and college teams, there is no shortage of options.

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