Māori League Nationals turn 25

By James Perry

This weekend 34 teams came together in Rotorua for the latest edition of the tournament.

Since 1993 the country's Māori league teams have been battling for supremacy, and year after year they keep returning for more.

When asked what has been the highlight over the years, and why the tournament has grown, NZMRL chairman John Devonshire says, "Simply, it's just about being Māori and celebrating as Māori."

Hammond Matua is one such player. The Ngāti Umutahi player says this was his 21st year of playing in the tournament. He agrees the opportunity for friends and family to catch up on the football field is probably the main reason why he and others keep coming back.

The tournament has continued to grow over the past 25 years. NZMRL now run four tournaments throughout the course of the year, from tamariki to teina and rangatahi through to the tuakana tournament. All up, Devonshire says there are over 130 teams.

Devonshire isn't sure if the tournaments can get any bigger than they are already, although he says that some have mentioned that one day the wahine toa competition may have to become its own stand-alone tournament. This year there were 7 teams who participated. Devonshire says if the tournament was to become separated, it would be sad "because I like the concept of embracing the whakawhanaungatanga in terms of male and female."

In the 25th year, Te Arawa won the wahine toa division. defeating Ngāti Umutahi in the final. He Waka Eke Noa defeated Te Puaha o Waikato in the waka final, and Raukawa ki Runga won the rohe section beating Kotahitanga in the final.