Stacey Jones never expected to be appointed Māori All-Stars coach but a vote of confidence from Kiwis mentor Michael Maguire helped him take the next step in his coaching career.
Maguire was initially set to hold the reins of the Māori side for next Friday's historic clash against the Australian Indigenous All-Stars at AAMI Park in Melbourne, but his commitments as Kiwis test coach and Wests Tigers NRL mentor meant he had too much on his plate.
The former South Sydney premiership-winning coach wanted to closely align the Māori side with the Kiwis and had no hesitation in nominating "The Little General" as his replacement.
Jones and Maori assistant coach Nathan Cayless work together on Stephen Kearney's Warriors coaching staff, and both served as deputies to Maguire throughout the Kiwis tour of England at the end of last season.
"Michael was meant to coach them and obviously with him going fulltime with the Tigers, he asked if I'd be interested, along with the New Zealand Māori Rugby League," explained Jones. "I'm very excited and proud to be involved."
Jones is grateful for Maguire's support and also received plenty of encouragement from Kearney.
The role is Jones' first head coaching job since he steered the club's reserve grade side to consecutive finals appearances in 2015 and 2016, after winning the NYC title in his first season in charge of the Warriors under-20s team in 2014.
The 42-year-old former Golden Boot-winning halfback didn't have the opportunity to play for the Māori during his brilliant career (1995-2009) but is pleased to be involved with the team through this new concept.
"When I was asked to do it I thought 'what a great opportunity'," he said.
"Obviously I worked with [Maguire] in the Kiwis and he's also been a pretty good help on the phone, asking how I'm going and what we've got in place.
"Mooks [Kearney], as well, has been pretty good in helping me out. Obviously I had to talk to Steve about it and he said 'great for you, it will be great for your development'.
"I'm just pretty proud and excited to be able to do it, but also to be the coach is exciting because I haven't been the [head] coach for a long time."
Since taking over as Kiwis head coach last year, Maguire has made it a priority to streamline the national game and looked to provide opportunities to emerging coaches.
Sydney-based former New Zealand forward and test selector Mark Horo will also serve as one of Jones' assistants, and with a host of Kiwi internationals also in the Māori line-up, both national teams have strong synergy from the top down.
"I was really keen to have it aligned with our Kiwis team as well with Stacey so they're under the same umbrella of what we're trying to build," said Maguire.
"A lot of the Kiwi boys are a part of that Maori team and it's a special occasion for not only the Māori but the Kiwis as well. I felt that Stacey, from my time with him over on the tour, was the right man and along with Nathan, both of those men were excellent.
"They are really good men to work with and obviously the building of Kiwi coaches is something I feel is a big part of what we're doing as well, and creating opportunities for them.
"Stacey gets along with the players really well, his knowledge of the game is excellent, and he's going to represent the Maori really well."
Jones hints the Māori will look to play tough and expansive footy in keeping with the side's traditional style.
"All-star games in the past have been pretty free-flowing and I expect the same in this.
"We'll keep things as simple as possible but we also want to play a bit of football that will entertain the crowds.
"Hopefully we can put on a good game and the players can be proud and young Māori will one day want to be a part of the team, too."