Rugby league: NZ Warriors aim to tap into Māori and Pasifika talent pool, form new pathway to NRL, NRLW

  • December 13, 2022

NZ Warriors are committing to having Māori and Pasifika representation in their sides at all levels, forming a new partnership to allow players a pathway towards the NRL and NRLW.

In tandem with the Pasifika Aotearoa Collective (PAC), aimed towards seeing a stronger voice for players from the likes of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, the Warriors will play their part in providing opportunities for Māori and Pasifika players.

A PAC-assembled under 15s side already showed their worth to NRL scouts, with victory over a Sydney Roosters under 15s team last weekend, and the Warriors have put themselves at the front of the queue to benefit from the talent influx breaking through.

NZ Warriors celebrate. Photo credit: Photosport

Statistics taken by Australian outlet SBS has the number of Pasifika players making up 45 percent of the NRL, despite only being two percent of Australia’s general population.

With Auckland being one of the world’s largest Pasifika communities, with close to 400,000 people of Pacific origin, according to MFAT, the synergy with the Warriors ahead of other NRL sides is natural.

And for the Warriors, the chance to tap into emerging Māori and Pasifika players coming through will be key as the NRL’s only Kiwi club continues to push for a first premiership.

“It’s very important for us,” Warriors director of recruitment Andrew McFadden told Newshub. “We want to connect ourselves with good people first, and that’s what the PAC group are.

“Our motivations are the same, we want to inspire young men and women, young boys and girls to play rugby league first and foremost.

“What comes out of that, we all know. It’s about that relationship, connecting with our community is really important to us.

“It’s a great start.”

As the only New Zealand-based club, representation is a huge goal for the Warriors.

Of the NZ Kiwis’ squad that travelled to the Rugby League World Cup in England earlier this year, only one player – Dallin Watene-Zelezniak – was contracted to the Warriors.

NZ Warriors celebrate. Photo credit: Photosport

Talent retention has long been an issue for the Warriors, with Australian based clubs able to offer incentives to players that might slip through the gaps in the New Zealand system, or those who grow up across the Tasman but play under the Kiwi flag.

But in tandem with PAC, the Warriors are hoping to see local players be given the chance to play in the NRL, for the club that represents their home.

“We identified that nice and early, any success we have at the Warriors has to come from here.

“It has to start with developing our pathways locally. With the PAC group, it’s [about] branching that right out.

“Any success with the Warriors, we need to have homegrown talent in that side – that’s a priority for us.

“We’re very lucky we’ve got an owner who’s willing to commit to that. [Now] it’s a matter of forming these relationships and working hard.”

In the past few years, Pasifika teams have made rugby league stand up and take notice.

In 2017, Tonga stunned the game with their performance at the Rugby League World Cup, coming within one incorrect decision of reaching the final, before going on to defeat Australia in 2018.

To go even better, Samoa built on their arch-rivals’ success, and became the first Pasifika team to reach the final, even if it ended in defeat to Australia.

And with the international game coming to the fore, and Pasifika certain to play a huge part in that, McFadden acknowledges the Warriors want to “tap into” the obvious talent on show.

“Māori and Pasifika have always made up a huge portion of our side. Obviously the impact they’re having on the game, namely in the World Cup with the emergence of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

“It is growing, and it’s great players are committing to their nations they want to play for. It’s not about money anymore, it’s about having passion.

“We certainly want to tap into that.”