For former rugby league star player Adam Blair, nothing beats the thrill of playing for Māori, and, as coach of the Maori All Stars, he’s keen to see that feeling transfer to his players.
“I’m excited about the group of men we have available who have put their hands up to play.”
Blair (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) has had a glittering rugby league career. He played a total of 331 NRL games across four clubs (Melbourne, the Wests Tigers, Brisbane, and the New Zealand Warriors). He also played 51 tests for the Kiwis and played two years for the Māori team.
The back-rower got his first taste of coaching the All Stars during last year’s fixture in Rotorua as an assistant, but now takes the reins of one of the most exciting teams assembled.
“You have to have other coaches support and assist you with that coaching process. Planning has been the biggest part of this year and the back end of last year.”
He says for some players, it’s the first time getting any experience of their Māori roots.
“Trying to get our boys to be brave enough to go into the clubs and have a chat with the coaches about why they want to represent the Maori All Stars.”
“A lot of those boys, especially the guys who are all living over in Australia, find themselves away from the culture.”
“A place where they belong to something and also a place where they can just be themselves. A place to be Māori.”
He is also under no illusion about the challenge of playing against the Indigenous All Stars, who boast some of the game’s greatest players, like South Sydney duo Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker, as well as arguably the game’s two fastest players, Josh Addo-Carr and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
“Their outside backs are the elite of the NRL, and a lot of those guys either play in New South Wales or Australia. So I guess for us it’s about minimising the opportunities.”
The games kick off on Friday, February 16 on Sky Sport.
2024 Harvey Norman All Stars squads
Indigenous All Stars
Josh Addo-Carr, Jacob Alick, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Bailey Butler, Josh Curran, Adam Elliott, Jordan Grant, J’maine Hopgood, Nicho Hynes, Josh Kerr, Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Latrell Mitchell, Shaquai Mitchell, Kierran Moseley, Hohepa Puru, Kotoni Staggs, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Isaiah Tass, Braydon Trindall, Cody Walker
Coach: Ronald Griffiths
Māori All Stars
Jesse Arthars, Kenny Bromwich, Dane Gagai, Jacob Gagai, Jack Howarth, Jahrome Hughes, Royce Hunt, Te Maire Martin, Trey Mooney, Briton Nikora, Kodi Nikorima, Adam Pompey, Joseph Tapine, Jazz Tevaga, Leo Thompson, Matthew Timoko, Brandon Smith, Dylan Walker, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Xavier Willison
Coach: Adam Blair