Rugby league: Calls for New Zealand to host NRL's All Star fixtures grow louder as Rotorua prepares for Aotearoa's first clash

There's growing calls for the NRL All Stars clash to be played on New Zealand soil more often. 

The game will be played here for the first time on Saturday night. But after a week like no other in Rotorua, both the Māori and Indigenous sides want to return more often.

It's been a week of cultural immersion for the NRL All Stars, as the Indigenous side got a taste of something different in Rotorua. 

Joseph Tapine.
Joseph Tapine. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We're so thankful, and grateful we're over here," said South Sydney Rabbitohs star Cody Walker.

"That welcome on Monday morning was something special."

For Māori co-captains James Fisher-Harris and Joseph Tapine, it's been an emotional experience connecting with their heritage, preparing for the first ever all stars game in New Zealand.

"[The] thing I've noticed in Rotorua is the amount of people that speak Māori," said Tapine.

"It's pretty uplifting to me as a person that's trying to get back there and learn my language."

Now, both teams are calling for the game - which has grown in popularity in recent years - to return to these shores more often.

"We want to showcase rugby league over here," Tapine continued. "We know it's a huge union here in New Zealand. 

"To get games here, and open some young talent that's probably locked away through the rugby league channels would be huge."

That enthusiasm is shared by the Indigenous All Stars as well.

"To be honest, I was a bit skeptical to begin with, not knowing what to expect," added Walker.

"But being here, you have to give the Māori team credit. The people of Rotorua welcomed us with open arms.

"I think it was a great idea to bring it over, and I'd like to see it come back."

Players might just get their wish too. It's understood the NRL are considering hosting the All Stars fixtures alternately on both sides of the Tasman.

And it's not just the men's game that stands to benefit either. 

With female participation in New zealand on the up, the women's teams believe their all stars game can have a real impact.  

"We're just hoping to improve those pathways, especially for the New Zealand girls, to give them an opportunity to showcase for the game and the culture," said Māori All Stars forward Shannon Mato.

New Zealand's first chance to do that finally comes on Saturday.