When an international rugby league team visited Te Wharekura o Mauao two facets stood out to the tourists - the teenagers' haka and the sports skills of the female students.

A 22-man England Community Lions Rugby League team are on their first tour of New Zealand, which has seen them face New Zealand rugby league athletes. Their tour started with a match against a North Island Championship Selection squad at Owen Delany Park in Taupō on October 24 before heading to Rotorua last Sunday to play the New Zealand Māori Residents XIII team at the New Zealand Māori Rugby League National Tuakana Tournament, and their final match in Auckland tonight.

In between matches, New Zealand Rugby League Upper Central Zone operations manager Hamana Amoamo said the team had been engaging with the different communities, visiting schools, taking in attractions and running league-based drills.

One of the visits took the English athletes to Te Wharekura o Mauao, where they were welcomed with a pōwhiri and haka before taking about 50 students through some drills.


Amoamo said all the kids enjoyed themselves and the players mentioned the students' haka was the best they had seen and were particularly impressed by the skills of the girls in the sport, which made sense given girls rugby league was moving quicker than the boys in New Zeland.

"The visiting team loved it - especially seeing the haka. The whole school turned out."

And given the visit came just days after England beat the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup, the Kiwis did bring up the loss in jest, Amoamo said.

"It was a great morning. They loved it," he said.

England Community Lions Rugby League team head coach Richard Owen said it was smiles all round when the team played some games and drills with the youngsters.

Owen had visited back in 1995 but it was the first time in New Zealand for most of the team, made up of amateur players from across the country making it an exciting opportunity for the athletes, most of whom juggled fulltime jobs and playing rugby league.

Amoamo said England Community Lions' community engagement also provided an opportunity to raise awareness of rugby league and encourage youngsters to pick up the sport, Amoamo said.

"It's the small things like this. Hopefully, it will plant some seeds which will grow into something."


- Additional reporting Jean Bell