A new rugby league competition is boosting participation rates in Te Tai Tokerau, with more kōtiro and wāhine wanting to play the sport.
The 2022 Peters Sisters Competition pays homage to Hilda, Rona and Kahurangi Peters of Te Aupōuri.
The siblings made history as the first trio of sisters to represent New Zealand on the world stage in NRL Women's Premiership and the Māori All Stars.
The tournament also serves as a springboard for selection to play for the Northern Swords women’s team where they could further go on to play for the Kiwi Ferns.
The best of Northland’s talent will be on display this weekend with six highly contested 16s and women’s teams from Te Aupōuri Kuaka, Tūhoronuku Mid North and Whangārei Hauāwhiowhio, playing over three consecutive weekends in Whangārei, Te Kao and Te Pū o te Wheke.
Player coach of Whangārei’s Hauāwhiowhio women’s team, Sergeant Arihi Reihana of Ngāpuhi, believes the competition is a unique way to grow the sport.
“There’s something special about a competition like this where it’s not just about winning for your team, it’s about playing alongside your sisters, with your whānau and for your iwi,” she said.
“There’s so much talent amongst our younger girls, but there’s just no competition in the women’s grade for them to carry onto, so I’m excited about the opportunities this brings for the region.”
She said the new tournament will lift competitiveness in Northland, developing and encouraging players to reach for top honors.
“We’ve never had a competition leading into the Northern Swords selection, it’s just always been an open training session and then you get selected, but this keeps the region competitive, and this means that we actually have to fight for a spot on the team instead of just being on it.”
For 18-year-old Fiona and 14-year-old Athanasious Kohu of Ngāpuhi, the competition is a chance to show that talent runs in the blood, following in the footsteps of their older sister and aunty, Kiwi Fern Kararaina Kohu.
While they’re usually playing alongside each other, this time they’ll play in different grades for Hauāwhiowhio.
Athanasious said she’s excited to have another chance at playing the game she loves.
“I love league. I love the contact and how hearty it is, so I’m happy there’s another chance for us to have another jam on the field,” she said.
“We’d rather play together, but it’s still cool that we get to be there for each other and to represent where we come from.”
Fiona said the competition highlights the success of Māori women in the game, paving the way for other girls and wāhine wanting to give it a crack.
“It’s cool because we don’t usually have league competitions up here, and I think it’s awesome to see our women [Hilda, Rona and Kahurangi Peters] get recognition for their talents.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to keep playing, to stay active and to play somewhere a little closer to home.”
Rugby League Northland board member Kath Wharton, who had played a huge part in organising the competition, said the competition has already proven to be successful, with more kōtiro and wāhine lacing up their boots.
“For me success is creating the conditions for our ladies and our girls to participate, and we’ve done that,” she said.
“All our rohe have taken a different approach to developing and growing the game here. It’s not your traditional camps or trainings, it’s grounded in Te Ao Māori, it’s grounded in Northland, the approach is very Te Tai Tokerau and that’s due to the people sitting in those spaces.”
The former Kiwi Fern and manager of Healthy Families Far North said it was about more than just the game.
“We’ve come together to learn about rugby league, but more importantly, it’s about whanaungatanga, understanding the history of the game and having a place for everyone to come and hang out.”
“I think the competition has been designed in a way that suits our people, it reflects who we are as whānau, as Māori and I’m really excited about the girls who are going to show up and play.”