By James Perry

Physical Disability Rugby League New Zealand has changed its name to Whutupōro Rīki Whaikaha o Aotearoa as a way to encapsulate what it represents.

Whutupōro Rīki Whaikaha Aotearoa founder and chairperson Sandra Hickey says the idea to adopt a Māori name wasn’t taken lightly, and enlisted the help of Keri Opai and, subsequently, Kahurangi Tibble.

“We’ve really been focusing within our New Zealand squad camps on many of the concepts such as manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, all of these concepts we’ve brought in to produce those values in our squad and as an organisation.

“In the English language, and I’m not steeped in this in any way but the words are just black and white. They don’t encapsulate a lot, whereas the Māori language and Pasifika languages, those words say a lot and that’s really what I was looking for.

“I managed to track Keri online and he was so lovely and so receptive and really understood where we were coming from, that we didn’t just want to make something up to tick a box. It really needed to mean a lot, it needed to have some history to it and some really good deep meaning to it.”

Head coach Raymond Greaves (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Tara) says the name change was kept under wraps until now, with the players only finding out at this weekend’s training camp in Auckland, as they build up to the Physical Disability World Cup in the UK later this year.

Positive starting point

“As Sandra alluded to, I’ve been focusing a lot on whakawhanaungatanga, manaakitanga and kotahitanga. And I feel that the progress that we’ve made over these last few months, that’s really starting to show within the squad. Personally, I feel really proud of what has been achieved. Unveiling this new name that encapsulates that is amazing.”

One of the immediate changes they both hope to gather from the change in name from “physical disability” to “whaikaha” is a positive starting point of the new name, not only for the players and their whānau, but the wider community. Hickey, whose daughter has a disability, is well aware of the negative connotations that come with that word.

“Whaikaha comes from such a strength-based perspective. I’m very well entrenched in that negative medical kind of model of disability as we get to experience it. So to be able to give a whole new name and introduce it into people’s mindsets is going to be amazing. It’s such an empowering word.”

Whaikaha means to have strength, ability and to be enabled.

Greaves, who has been involved with PDRL for the past five years says from the moment Opai and Tibble explained the meaning of whaikaha it has felt right.

“It just added so much impetus for Physical Disability Rugby League. To be able to have a new kupu for it just made it so much more worthwhile.”

‘I don’t see a disability’

He says as an able-bodied person he came into the PDRL whānau at a “tumultuous time” in his own life, and is looking forward to giving back to his players as much as he has got from them.

“It’s going to be hard to keep my emotions in check. The past four years has been heading in the right direction. I say to our team every week at this stage in the short career of playing physical disability rugby league, ‘We’re trailblazing, we’re setting the tone for the young whaikaha coming through. What we do today is going to establish tomorrow what they experience.’

“It took me maybe two months or so [of coaching] before I actually realised that the one person there who had a disability was me because my mind couldn’t work out how to work with this group of people, who had physical disabilities. And at the end of the day I worked it out that they just wanted to be treated like ‘normal’ people and loved like a ‘normal’ person. As soon as that clicked in my mind, I realised that I have no right to judge any book by its cover. Who are we to say that you can’t do this?

“I don’t see a disability. All I see is as a person.”

A squad of 23 will head over to England at the end of October to play in the PDRL World Cup with matches against Australia, England and Wales, and more than half of the players will be Māori. Greaves has boldly predicted his team has a 99% chance of becoming the first ever to lift the Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup.

To donate to their first-ever World Cup campaign, please click here.

Physical Disability Rugby League NZ (PDRLNZ) is pleased to announce, former Warrior and New Zealand International, Kiwi #657 Tony Tatupu, has been appointed as PDRLNZ’s new ambassador.

Tony made his NRL debut against the Brisbane Broncos in 1995 as Warrior #12 and has represented both New Zealand and Samoa. Tony now serves as a New Zealand Police officer and represented the New Zealand Police at the inaugural Police World Cup 2008.

Tony’s appointment as PDRLNZ’s new ambassador comes at an exciting time for disability rugby league. The PDRLNZ South Pacific 9’s Challenge will see the Polynesia All Stars take on the Invitational All Stars as the curtain-raiser match for the Great Britain League Lions v Tonga test at Waikato’s FMG Stadium on October 26 – a first for the sport.

“It is an absolute honour to have been considered for the Ambassador position and it was an easy decision after having met the Physical Disability Rugby League NZ team and their families for the very first time,” Tony said.

“I was immediately captivated and inspired by the player’s individual journeys, their resilience and determination to overcome barriers so they can play and enjoy our game.  To witness our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in action is truly humbling and I have nothing but aroha and respect for each of them and their families.  Grateful to Paul Walsh and Vaughan Perry for introducing me to PDRLNZ.

“PDRLNZ has empowered me to advocate and champion this wonderful kaupapa by promoting its vision – to normalise physical disability, and encourage our physical disability families to get involved.  It has motivated me to reconnect with the Warriors Old Boys, NZ Warriors and NZRL and as a result, a number of brothers from the OGs who have kindly offered their support.”

Sandra Hickey, Founder and Chair of Physical Disability Rugby League, said: “We are thrilled to bits that Tony has accepted the role of Ambassador for Physical Disability Rugby League NZ. Tony is a very humble and honourable person who has a big heart for people, especially those who don’t get as much opportunity in this life as others. We are looking forward to working together to encourage more people with a physical disability to get out and get active. The future is looking really exciting for PDRL”.

Click here to purchase tickets to the GB Lions v Tonga test match / PDRLNZ curtain-raiser



As well as a host of blockbuster Great Britain Rugby League Lions and Oceania Cup fixtures, rugby league’s international programme features a first for the sport – a Physical Disabled Rugby League curtain raiser match ahead of the GB League Lions v Tonga clash at FMG Stadium Waikato on October 26.

The PDRLNZ South Pacific 9’s Challenge will see the Polynesia All Stars take on the Invitational All Stars over two 25-minute halves.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for us,” says PDRL player Gary Endacott.

“What I love about the PDRL is that is an opportunity for people to play the sport that they love but not necessarily in a wheelchair. No disrespect to wheelchair sports, but there has always been way more options for people with physical disabilities to do stuff in wheelchairs.”

Endacott, who is the son of former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, says people will be surprised by the quality produced by players whose physical disabilities prevent them from being able to play open grade rugby league but stop short of being restricted to a wheelchair.

“The quality of the play, I think many people will find quite surprising, not just the skill factor but also the physical intensity.”

Having started in Australia in 2010, PDRL began in New Zealand in 2015 with a match at the Mt Albert Lions club.

The sport has grown to include regular trans-Tasman competition, including three international matches between New Zealand and Australian sides.

Endacott, who was born with cerebral palsy, has played presidents grade rugby league for 30 years but never dreamed he’d get the chance to play the sport on a major stage.

“Obviously the game is in the blood,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of different sporting things and I can say this with a high degree of certainty: there is nothing that put a bigger smile on my face than actually getting to play the game I love at a level that I always wanted to aspire to. I really thought this would never happen.

“I’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and won world tennis championships in the disabled arena, but I’d chuck all that out the window to do what I am doing now with the league.”

The PDRLNZ South Pacific Challenge is nine players per side, and features players in black shorts who play full contact and red-shorted players who play touch, as well as two able-bodied players to help facilitate play.

Endacott has largely played as a black shorts player however his age and disability level means he is now tending towards the red shorts.

“But I like the physicality of the game. I’m probably a wee bit too physical at times. I’m pretty affected in the legs and I’ve not got the best balance – but physical strength would be as good as a lot of people. And as far as balls skills and things like that, I’ve been a wee bit lucky in the gene pool there!”

The chance to play a curtain-raiser at an international match was a major boost for a sport that was progressing well but still encountered challenges accessing funding and sponsorship, Endacott said.

“We need people to get behind it and NZRL have obviously been very supportive by making sure we are the curtain raiser (game), which is great.”

Sandra Hickey, Founder & Chair of Physical Disability Rugby League NZ, says this is an opportunity the athletes would have only dreamed of.

“We are very grateful to New Zealand Rugby League for the opportunity to showcase PDRL on the global stage, giving our athletes the chance to show off their hard work and play the game in front of an international crowd. It’s a momentous occasion that will have long-term benefits on the growth of PDRL.”

“We are delighted we have been able to include this fixture as part of our busy international calendar,” NZRL chief executive Greg Peters said.

“We are always looking to provide more opportunities for our players to play this great game, despite what level they are, where they’ve come from or if they have a disability or not. Rugby league is inclusive and having our PDRLNZ athletes take the field in October is really exciting.

“Going forward, we are working to provide more regular opportunities for our PDRLNZ athletes to showcase their skills on the world stage. The curtain raiser match is an important milestone and hopefully, the beginnings of what’s to come.”

The Physical Disability Rugby League New Zealand (PDRLNZ) has named the New Zealand Representative team that will take part in the Physical Disability event at this year’s Emerging Nations World Championship.

The squad, selected from eligible players from across New Zealand and Australia, will take on the Australian Physical Disability team in a three match series at this year’s Emerging Nations World Championship.

Fixtures for the Physical Disability Representative matches will be released on the Emerging Nations World Championship website in the coming weeks.

New Zealand Representative Team:
Che Fornusek (NSW)
Gary Endacott (Christchurch)
Michael Kulene (Auckland)
Uturei Toparea (Auckland)
Jason Gilmour (Auckland)
James Doolan (Auckland)
Phil Milne (Christchurch)
Ben Tuimaseve (Auckland)
Garry Kingi (NSW)
Timothy Ragg (NSW)
Brad Vear (Taupo)
Matthew Williams (Auckland)
Bruce Cross (Auckland)
Josh Dench (Christchurch)
Jeremy Hendrix Harris (Waikato)
Junior Leaupepe (Auckland)
Freeman Hickey (Auckland)
Josh Hyde (Auckland)

Coach: Rodney Hall (Auckland)
Manager: Bruce Milne (Christchurch)