Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NZ Maori lining up World Cup showdown with Aussie Indigenous side

Greg Inglis of the Indigenous All Stars leads the war cry during the 2017 NRL All Stars match. Photo/Getty Images
Greg Inglis of the Indigenous All Stars leads the war cry during the 2017 NRL All Stars match. Photo/Getty Images

New Zealand Maori Rugby League remains hopeful of playing in a blockbuster curtain-raiser against the Australian Indigenous side at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

The NZMRL has been in negotiations with various stakeholders over the past 12 months, with plans to reprise the match between the two sides that opened the 2008 World Cup.

The match would be an undoubted hit, as the game in Sydney nine years ago was a great spectacle.

It's also topical, as high profile figures like Phil Gould and Johnathan Thurston called for more matches for the Australian side, in the wake of an impressive 34-8 win over the World All Stars in Newcastle last weekend.

"[They] need to play together more often," said Gould. "We need to find them opposition to play against."

So can we expect an extra game to be added to the 2017 RLWC schedule?

"We hope it can happen," said NZMRL chairman John Devonshire. "We would like to play and we think it is the perfect stage to celebrate our cultures.

"We have played a part before and history shows that it was successful."

Aside from playing in Melbourne before the Kangaroos-England clash on October 27, Devonshire says the NZMRL has also floated an alternative plan to play in Auckland ahead of the Kiwis v Samoa clash on October 28.

"We would like to be involved at the World Cup and we know it would be a great spectacle," said Devonshire.

New Zealand Rugby League CEO Alex Hayton confirmed that the match was high on the agenda.

"We all remember 2008 and everyone is keen to see it happen again," said Hayton, who added that there were still some cost and logistical issues to be sorted out.

RLWC New Zealand general manager Andrea Nelson confirmed discussions around the proposed match were "ongoing between a number of parties".

The New Zealand Maori side has impressive pedigree. In 2010, they drew 18-18 with England ahead of the Four Nations, with the likes of James Tamou, Kevin Proctor, Bodene Thompson and Kevin Locke in their team.

The 2008 match in Sydney was a thriller. The Maori side could call on Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jordan Rapana and Sam McKendry, but were pipped 34-26 by the Australian side that boasted Preston Campbell, Chris Sandow and Jamie Soward.

The Maori also played against the All Golds in 2008, where an impressive performance from Bronson Harrison put him back into Kiwis contention. The former Tigers back rower went on to play a major role for New Zealand in the latter stages of that World Cup.

The Maori side also competed as a separate entity at the 2000 World Cup, beating Scotland, but losing to Samoa and Ireland.

Devonshire admits that is unlikely to happen again.

"We've taken delegations and proposals to the International board, and they have always come back with the 'one country, one team' answer," said Devonshire.

"That's fair enough, but we would like to be involved in some way."​

- NZ Herald

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