After playing host to their Māori counterparts for the past four NRL Harvey Norman All Stars, the Indigenous squad are this week enjoying being guests in the first ever edition of the event to be held in New Zealand.
Tuesday morning saw a large gathering at the picturesque Te Papaiouru Marae, situated on the active geothermal lakefront in Rotorua, to welcome both the men’s and women’s Māori and Indigenous sides ahead of Saturday’s matches at Rotorua International Stadium.
“To have the All Stars over here is pretty good, and to learn about the Māori culture as well,” Indigenous back Selwyn Cobbo said from the marae.
“I have never seen anything like this before, it’s a lot to take in and I love the Māori culture.”
Rules for the 2023 Harvey Norman All Stars
Forward Ryan James, who retired from the NRL last season but has travelled to take part in one final camp with the Indigenous side as a player, said he was in awe of the way Māori culture is embraced in Rotorua.
Five years ago the city became the first in New Zealand to be declared bilingual, with road signage in both Te Reo Māori and English.
“It's amazing to see how embedded the New Zealand Māori culture is here, it is unbelievable,” James said.
“Even to see the kids know the language and have schools that have the language.
“New Zealand are well far ahead of us [Australia] when it comes to knowing their culture and being extremely proud of who they are.
“It's just one of those things where we just have to keep learning our culture. Australia has never really taught our culture, and it's something that we're looking to change.
To see the pride that they have when everyone's performing is something that we strive for.Ryan James
On Tuesday the men’s and women’s teams all had their first training session since arriving in New Zealand on Monday afternoon.
For Cobbo, the match against the Māori is a chance to have a starting role in the star-studded Indigenous backline after coming off the interchange in last year’s fixture, while he’s also enjoying rubbing shoulders with some childhood idols.
“I only finished school a few years ago and it wasn’t long ago that I was watching these boys on TV,” Cobbo said.
Match: Maori v Indigenous
Round 1 -
Venue: Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
“It’s my first camp with Latrell [Mitchell], and the boys have been looking after me and taking me under their wing.
“It’s good to be back and I am proud to get picked in this team again.”