The first Indian representative rugby league team, the Indian Jungle Cats, played their first international match against Columbia on Sunday 14th July at WJ Scott Park, Holland Park, Brisbane to which they came away with a 30 – 16 win.

Over half the full 18-man Jungle Cats squad was made up of New Zealand players who play in the Ethnic Rugby League Competition (ERL) including the coach Tony Tietie, who coached the very first Counties Manukau Indian team – a testament to the hard work and dedication that’s gone into growing New Zealand’s ethnic community game.

The Ethnic Rugby League Competition (ERL) was founded by Kasey King, General Manager Counties Manukau Rugby League (CMRL) over six years ago and the development of the competition was largely assisted by the leadership group formed from participating teams and the very first player recruited, Joshua Naidu. The ERL provides a platform for ethnic minorities, i.e. anyone of Indian, Asian, African or Middle Eastern descent, to develop their skills and regularly play the game.

Since 2013, the ERL competition has gone from a two-team, best of three-game series to a four-team, 4 – 6 week competition and 5 team Nine aside tournament with representative teams selected to compete in the annual Cabramatta Nines, held in Sydney Australia.

In 2016 discussion between CMRL and NRL occurred, exploring opportunities of international Indian representation and although it did not eventuate, the seed was planted. The Indian Jungle Cats team was formed by Nick Samra (AUS), Joshua Naidu (NZ) and Shaniyat Chowdhury (USA) upon a suggestion from Queensland Rugby League in September 2018.  In less than a year, they’ve played their first international match against Colombia Rugby League who is ranked 41st in the world and have already played international fixtures.

Nigel Vagana, GM of Football and Well-being at New Zealand Rugby League, says this is a significant milestone for New Zealand’s ethnic community game.

“We’re really fortunate to have people from all walks of life involved in rugby league. The ERL has shaped some impressive players in a very short time, with international representation in several countries such as; Philipines, Thailand, Hong Kong and now India. It’s exciting this talent gets to be showcased at an international level on Sunday.

“We’re looking to further develop Indian Rugby League at both a grassroots and representative level, as well as provide more opportunities for our ethnic players going forward. We’d like to see other minority ethnicities follow suit and front representative teams in the future as well.

“Overall, this is a really exciting time, not only for our Indian players but all involved in the ERL.”