The rivalry between the North and South Islands of New Zealand will hit its peak this weekend when the inaugural North vs South tournament gets underway at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday.
The national series will feature eight teams, four men’s and four women’s, after the annual international indigenous matches against Australia’s First Nations couldn’t take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Māori Football Aotearoa chairman and kaitiaki Phill Parker said COVID-19 was an opportunity for the organisation to look internally at what it can do to grow football among New Zealand’s indigenous community.
“What the North vs South means to us is our clear intention, a signal, to say we are going to develop internally until we can actually go out there and play internationally again,” Parker said.
“North vs South is signalling not just to the football landscape, but to our people, we can do things internally.”
Playing a North vs South is not a new concept, with several New Zealand sports having paved the way and Parker insists tomorrow’s four matches will all be highly entertaining.
“Māori are naturally competitive. As soon as we started bringing up the concept of a North vs South it just really went off. Even off just a few Facebook posts, the response was massive and that told us we really have to do this.
“It’s also an opportunity to expand the database. This weekend in Rotoua we’ll be putting on a show on Saturday with 128 Māori footballers across four matches.”
Ngā Wahine Whanapoikiri and Ngā Hine Whanapoikiri are the senior women and U-16 girls teams respectively, with men’s categories also featuring.
A rigorous trial process was undertaken by the coaches and organisers to pick the squads which were announced earlier this week.
While they may not be household names like New Zealand’s Football Ferns just yet, there is certain to be plenty of talent taking to the field.
Asher Trotter of Ngati Ruanui will be looking after the women’s team while Kieran Mischewski of Ngatiwai takes the U-16 girls.
The tournament is providing an opportunity to create competitive opportunities for Māori playing football and provide a pathway from domestic to international competitions.
At the conclusion of North vs South 2021, the head coaches will select representatives squads for any upcoming 2021 engagements.
North vs South is a collaboration between Māori Football Aotearoa, Rotorua Lakes Council, Phill Parker Coaching and Legacy Football Foundation.
The U-16 Girls game will kick off at 1.15pm following the boys, while the women’s game kicks off at 3.30pm ahead of the senior men at 5.45pm.
The matches will be live streamed on Facebook: @MaoriFootball