Local kaumātua are leading a resurgence of Māori rugby in the region.
Te Tauihu o Te Waka a Maui Māori Rugby board chairman Barney Thomas is at the forefront of a strategy to strengthen Māori rugby across Top of South.
Having grown up and played most of his footy in Marlborough, Barney was seen as the perfect candidate to unite Nelson and Marlborough.
“There is a lot of history between Nelson and Marlborough and if we are to move forward as a region there is only one way we can do that, together.”
Part of the new strategy will see Māori players from both regions representing the Top of the South.
“This won’t just be about who turns up on the day anymore, and we will ensure coaches, managers, and physios are all available.”
Not only has there been a shift to a more professional environment for the men, there have also been initiatives implemented to improve the women’s and junior games.
“We hold wānanga for younger ones at the marae and talk about cultural issues they need to be aware of.”
Barney says there is immense pride in representing the iwi of the region.
“Many players and admins have gone before them and they have to remember all the work they put in to get us where we are now, they kept teams running through the good, bad and ugly.”
He says many players know only the iwi they represent, but little else of their heritage.
“We are trying to assist in finding out who they are and where they come from.”
The committee will also ensure there are sufficient funds available for trips.
“Last year there was a tournament in Invercargill, so I went to the treasurer to find out how much money there was, we had $6.50.”
Barney and his committee helped raise $45,000 for the year and then took three sides down south, with the women making the final. He says the project has continued to develop.
“It is looking more promising; we have a strong contingent of kaumātua supporting the teams as well as families.”
Barney hopes to carry this momentum down through the junior ranks.
“To bring our younger Māori up through the game, kids in sport stay out of court.”