State of Origin mate-versus-mate footy will come to Hawke's Bay on Friday as local players get the chance to show their true colours on the rugby league field, rather than in front of the TV.
Players in the just-completed Hawke's Bay club competitions had to nominate their favourite team - the New South Wales Blues or the Queensland Maroons - to become eligible to play for the team of their choice in either of two matches that will be played at Mitre 10 Sports Park, Hastings, on the Hawke's Bay Anniversary Day public holiday.
The Wahine play at 11am and the Tane at 1pm, with players mainly from clubs that completed the pandemic-disrupted club league season that ended on Saturday.
New playing kits have been bought especially for the purpose in the true colours but also incorporating insignia of the New Zealand and Hawke's Bay leagues.
The mate-v-mate tradition of club teammates being up against each other in the respective state sides with no love lost on the day extends even to Hawke's Bay, where NSW coach Henry Heke will have access to barely a third of the Omahu Huia squad he coached to beat Bay Bulldogs 42-24 in last Saturday's Hawke's Bay Premier grand final.
"The rest wanted to play for Queensland," says Rugby League Hawke's Bay "interim" chairman Shane Foster, who wouldn't have minded playing for the Blues, although it's 30 years since his heyday as a Flaxmere Falcons and Hawke's Bay Unicorns wing.
"I'm a New South Wales supporter from way back, in the 1980s," he says.
He will, however, try to conceal the loyalties on Friday, having to referee the men's match, something he's more familiar with in the 21st century, having also been on the whistle in last Saturday's club final.
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Foster says the Ngati Kahungunu State of Origin matches give players a further opportunity at times when steps have to be taken to grow rugby league in Hawke's Bay.
Male players lost the chance for premier footballers to revive representative flagship the Hawke's Bay Unicorns, which was to have been done in matches against Manawatū and Taranaki in the Central Vipers trial series which had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 lockdown in August.
Hawke's Bay hasn't fielded a Unicorns side since 2017.
Meanwhile, Omahu's grand final win at the weekend was the competition's oldest and most enduring club's first Hawke's Bay premier championship title in at least 30 years, including having never won the league's unique Spring competition when the code switched seasons in 2000.
Omahu were in all three finals, but were beaten by MAC in the Reserve grade showdown and Tamatea Arikinui in the women's grade.