30 April 2021 As seen on RNZ by Talei Anderson

With the support of New Zealand Rugby League, six nations have joined forces to promote Māori and Pasifika rugby league in New Zealand, with the launch of the Pasifika Aotearoa Rugby League Collective.

Organisations representing Tokelau, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue and the New Zealand Māori Rugby League signed a memorandum of understanding in Auckland last night, with support from NZRL, acknowledging a partnership of working together moving forward.

Auckland Niue Rugby League secretary Phillip Tasmania said they aim to bring Māori and Pasifika communities together through rugby league with culture at the forefront.

“We want to bring our communities together while keeping our values and culture,” he said.

“It’s also about working with the regions and going out to our Pasifika and Māori communities that are out in those regions and supporting them, showing them the system and templates we use to run tournaments and recreating those events in those areas which we’ve already started in places like Whangārei and Wellington.”

The group first met in 2016 after some New Zealand based Pacific Island nations struggled to field teams for tournaments.

After a lot of hard work, Auckland Niue Rugby League now have 400 players registered.

“We were a mess, we were a team made up of every other nation,” Tasmania admitted.

“There are no more meetings under the trees. You’ve got to use the mainstream system to progress this and our families and people respect that.”

All six members of the Pasifika Aotearoa Rugby League Collective are equal, he added.

“No ones flag is bigger than the others. Our [Niue] flag is the same size as New Zealand, the same size as Tonga … we get equal say which is good, we all bring different things to the table. It’s about respect and it’s a core value as a collective moving ahead.”

Hengi Fusitua from Hakula Tonga Aoteroa New Zealand said the Collective want to ensure playing rugby league is affordable for both Māori and Pasifika families.

“Our drive is to make sports affordable for our kids, because we have seen it at grass roots where mums turn up with five kids and have to hand pick which one can play because she can’t afford to pay the fees,” he said.

“Now we’re able to eliminate that [which will mean] more participation for our people so for us, cost is really high on the agenda, but also collectively, we want to see all the cultures together.”

For Tokelau, the Collective is as an opportunity to empower, unite and help grow the game of rugby league within the Tokelauan communities in Aotearoa.

“I’m excited for the generations, for the young players both males and females, but more so that we now know there are stepping stones for them in terms of playing field but more importantly of support people,” explained Luther Toloa.

Meanwhile an under 17s Pasifika Aotearoa Collective merit team will be selected from the New Zealand Māori Rugby League Tuakana tournament and Pacific Youth Cup to play the New Zealand under 16s at the end of October in Rotorua.

New Zealand Māori Rugby League chairman John Devonshire said it was just the beginning, with tournaments progressing and growing over the years.

“For me the biggest thing was representing our culture, cultural awareness and cultural identity not being lost,” he said.

“Every nation acknowledged New Zealand Māori as the haukāinga or tangata whenua of the motu, of the land, of Aotearoa, and that made it pretty special for us that we wanted to be part of this.”