Canterbury Māori will enter a team in the 2019 South Island Premier Competition.

With local rugby league stalwart Jaye Pukepuke behind the push as co-coach and chief organiser, Canterbury Māori is set to replace Tasman in the Southern Zone competition, which runs from August 10 through to September.

“It gives more players an opportunity to play at a higher level,” Pukepuke says.

“It also provides a platform to build for our national Māori tournament, which is held on Labour Weekend annually.”

The NZRL Māori tournament will be staged in Rotorua this October, and building experience and combinations against the likes of Otago, Southland, Aoraki and West Coast will be invaluable for the Canterbury Māori side.

But Pukepuke’s primary focus for the Canterbury Māori squad is around participation and cultural engagement.

“It gives us  another way for our boys to play rugby league, as well as giving us a platform to express our culture,” he says.

“The players we have talked to are really excited about it.”

Given the SZRL Premier Competition and the NZRL National Competition overlap, Pukepuke stressed that representing the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls remains the priority.

Playing for Canterbury Māori, however, can be a crucial stepping stone for players who have not cracked the Bulls yet to attain higher honours.

“The Bulls is still the highest level, so it’s not about coming down to play for us instead – we prefer for them to get more exposure playing for the Bulls.

“But if they’re not in the Bulls team, they can jump back down and help Canterbury Māori out.

“It’s just good to be able to broadcast how far we’ve come and that Canterbury Māori Rugby League can stand on our own two feet – and that we can compete with the best in the Southern Zone regional competition.”

Canterbury Development teams have previously competed in the Southern Zone’s flagship competition in recent years.

SZRL General Manager Steve Martin is enthusiastic about the effect a renewed presence of a Canterbury team can have on the region.

“The Southern Zone and its districts are pleased to welcome the Canterbury Māori team into the South Island Premier Competition this year,” Martin says.

“We have had Canterbury teams in the competition in past years and having a team that provides a further pathway for those in the game is something the Zone fully supports. The South Island districts have unanimously welcomed the Canterbury Māori team and everyone is looking forward to the upcoming competition.”

Pukepuke will be joined by Sonny Hammond as co-coach, while Barb Fletcher has put her hand up to manage the team.

A long-serving veteran of Canterbury Māori and NZ Māori teams, Pukepuke played all but two of Halswell’s Massetti Cup games last season and is still turning out for the Hornets sporadically this year.

He is preparing to pull on the boots again for Canterbury Māori in the coming months.

“I’ll be rolling around the field – I don’t know if you’d call it playing,” Pukepuke jokes.

Pukepuke, an inspirational figure through his work for Bros for Change, founded the Bros XIII rugby league team – which competes in the annual Pacific Series tournaments in Christchurch – in 2011.

The Canterbury Māori team shapes as another avenue for players to engage with their heritage.

“For us the team’s about connecting to our culture through the passion of rugby league.

“I was always passionate about rugby league, but I didn’t have my culture. So representing New Zealand Māori was me doing my passion, but also (connecting) with my culture.

“I’m trying to provide a platform for the boys down here to do the same and to connect in the same way. If that means we get to raise the profile of rugby league and travel around doing it, that’s awesome.”

A training muster for players interested in representing Canterbury Māori will be held at 10am on Sunday, July 28 at Knight Stream Park in Longhurst, Halswell.





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