Māori Football heading to Australia for first overseas international series

Māori Football Aotearoa is kicking off an exciting new era for the game - their first overseas international series.

This Saturday, the senior Māori men's and women's teams will face off against the Australian indigenous sides in the three-test International Festival of Indigenous Football series in Queensland.

Although the Australian teams have visited here before, this is the first time the Māori teams will play internationally. 

For Phil Pickering-Parker, it's been a longtime dream. He helped to start Māori Football Aotearoa in 2008.

"I was worried that there wasn't going to be an opportunity for Māori to actually come together in football and celebrate being Māori in a game that's not traditionally representative of Māori."

Pickering-Parker says the initial goal at the beginning was to have one team. There are now six teams in total, with two senior teams, two U18 teams and two U16 teams.

This year, 6277 Māori play in Aotearoa and over the years, Māori Football Aotearoa has helped nurture hundreds of footballers.

"Football is actually very popular, especially in the younger ages, because it's less combative than rugby and league," Pickering-Parker said.

It's not just about football - players come together to embrace their Māori whakapapa and culture. 

"It's as important as putting them into a game, putting them onto a field," Pickering-Parker said. "If we get the off-the-field stuff right with the taha Māori... it's transformational."

Māori Football heading to Australia for first overseas international series
Photo credit: The Hui

Two players who've been in this environment are Football Ferns squad members Paige Satchell and Grace Jale.

"Grace Jale really summed it up beautifully," said Pickering-Parker. "She said, 'When you come to the Māori, it's just different... I can't explain it.'"

Creating pathways for Māori footballers is vital, Pickering-Parker said, and the indigenous tour to Australia is another opportunity for players.

Rhys Ruka played in the first indigenous series in 2018, held in Aotearoa. This time, he's coaching and looks forward to a highly competitive series. 

"It's fierce, and it's very physical and fast for the first half hour especially, but as soon as the whistle is done, we're all brothers and we all get along after the match."

The indigenous three-test series kicks off this Saturday on the Sunshine Coast, with the following matches on July 4 at Flinders View, Ipswich and July 7 at Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast.

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.