Story: Māori rugby – whutupaoro

Page 5. Māori rugby league, 1970s to 2000s

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Pacific Cup

In 1975 New Zealand Māori fielded a team featuring future Kiwi greats Fred Ah Kuoi and Dane Sorensen to contest the inaugural Pacific Cup. They won the competition – which included Papua New Guinea, Victoria and Western Australia – undefeated, and repeated their success two years later. In 1986 the Pacific Cup was revived, and yet again New Zealand Māori were crowned the best after beating the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Tonga and Western Samoa.

Australia and Great Britain

For Māori rugby league the 1980s began with a courageous defensive effort to hold the Australian visitors to a 10–all draw in 1980. Three years later New Zealand Māori embarked upon a tour of Great Britain to commemorate their 75th anniversary season. The team won all eight matches. Players included Kiwi internationals Dean Bell, Joe Ropati, Nick Wright, Ron O’Regan, Ian Bell, Dick Uluave, Nolan Tupaea, Owen Wright, Clayton Friend and Tiki Cowan.

Māori league enjoyed its first victory against Great Britain in 1996, having first played this team in 1910 and encountered them on 10 occasions.

Which team?

Rugby league has involved complex selection decisions for Māori where race and nationality clash. Tawera Nikau captained the Māori team in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup after making himself unavailable for the Kiwis. In 2010 Timana Tahu, who had represented Australia at rugby union and rugby league, played for the Māori league team against England. In 2012, when James Tamou was selected for the Kangaroos instead of playing for the Kiwis, his mother said, ‘He's always going to be a Maori and he's always going to be a New Zealander.’1

Māori league centenary

In New Zealand Māori’s centenary season in 2008, the side was prevented from entering ithe World Cup in Australia, despite having been allowed to take part in this competition in Britain and France in 2000.


In the 2000s rugby league in New Zealand was played mainly by Māori and Pacific Islanders. In 2001 rugby league was the fourth-most popular game for Māori males – 17% played, compared to 4% of the total male population.

New Zealand Māori played in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup alongside the Kiwis. In the 2008 World Cup, the Kiwis emerged as world champions, with a significant number of Māori in the team, including Benji Marshall, Adam Blair and Lance Hohaia, as well as coach Stephen Kearney. New Zealand Māori played a curtain-raiser against an Aboriginal Dreamtime team.

There was an annual Māori rugby league tournament.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm Mulholland, 'Māori rugby – whutupaoro - Māori rugby league, 1970s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Malcolm Mulholland, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jan 2015