Rugby league: Māori, Pasifika bodies join together to form 'Pasifika Aotearoa Collective'

Pacific Island nations are combining to "level the playing field" and give Māori and Pasifika a stronger voice in rugby league.

Six bodies from Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Cook Islands and New Zealand Māori Rugby League have formed the Pasifika Aotearoa Collective, in what's been labelled a "reset" for the game in New Zealand. 

"Rugby league is our vehicle, it's about telling our own story," former Tonga and Kiwis captain Duane Mann tells Newshub.  

"From a sporting point of view, it's about demonstrating to other stakeholders in rugby league, what it could look like when Māori and Pasifika are at a decision-making level. 

The collective will meet and work together on issues facing the Pasifika rugby league community, with the aim to inspire more players to represent their heritage. 

"I think it's really important for the game," former NZ Warrior Tony Iro says. 

"I think in rugby league, there's been a lot of times where we've been pulling against each other.

"The collective is a great idea, these men will make it work."

To get the ball rolling, a Pasifika U-16 side will play a U-17 Kiwis team later this year 

"Our role is to give them opportunities. Through training programmes, giving them playing opportunities," New Zealand Rugby League rep Motu Tony says.

"We have a motto that we use, it's 'more than a game'. Our demographics are Māori and Pasifika that need help within communities, and rugby league can be that vehicle."

Auckland Rugby League will also assist the colective with resources and advice. 

"Hurricane COVID came through last year and swept us all aside," ARL Chairman Shane Price tells Newshub. 

"But it's made us think about the future of the game, clubs, but what they've realised is in the Islands as well, there's a game we can establish."

NZ Warriors will also play a part, with Tony Iro a key link between the two. 

"We'd like to think we're the figurehead of New Zealand Rugby League alongside the Kiwis. 

"Hopefully we can inspire more players to become NRL players," Iro said.

"If they're not going to be Warriors I'd like them to be Broncos or Storm players."

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