Players contesting the NZRL National Competition are not just chasing collective glory, but also individual advancement.
At the culmination of the new-look competition, New Zealand Rugby League will select an NZ Residents team to face NZ Maori in Huntly on October 15.
This fixture will be first time a residents side has taken the field since 2012, when they defeated NZ Maori 36-24.
That team, coached by current NZRL high performance general manager Brent Gemmell, included Akarana Falcons prop Suaia Matagi, who went on to NRL contracts with NZ Warriors, Sydney Roosters and currently Penrith Panthers.
Matagi (Kiwi #787) has also represented both New Zealand and Samoa internationally.
While the 2014 residents merit team did not assemble for a fixture, Canterbury fullback selection Ken Tofilau has since played for Newcastle Knights in the NRL Holden Cup and NZ Junior Kiwis.
“We recognise that the national competition and residents programme are still key elements of a career pathway for NZ-based players,” says Gemmell.
“Both offer an opportunity for them to show they’re ready for the next level and a new challenge. We know this game against the Maori will provide that goal for them to work towards.”
The fixture also represents a chance for NZ Maori Rugby League to reward players who have excelled through its own national tournament schedule, while perhaps bringing back NRL performers to share their experience.
“Our players don’t get to wear the Maori jersey very often, so any opportunity should be taken with both hands,” says NZMRL chairman John Devonshire. “Having a meaningful, quality game against the NZ Residents, it’s about giving the players a chance to measure themselves.
“We’ll try to have a balance of players. We feel an obligation to players within Aotearoa and also players who have been supportive of our kaupapa, like Bodene Thompson or Jordan Rapana. Of course, we’d prefer those guys play for the Kiwis, but this is a stepping towards those honours.”
The two-tier national competition kicks off this weekend, with a rematch of last year’s NZRL Premiership finalists – Counties Manukau Stingrays and Canterbury Bulls – as part of a Mt Smart Stadium doubleheader, both games LIVE on SKY Sport 2.
Akarana Falcons face Wellington Orcas in the other premier encounter, while Waikato host Taranaki and Southland take on Canterbury Development in the NZRL Championship.