As a young athlete, seeing people from the same place as them reach great successes in their sport can leave a lasting, positive impression.
New Zealand Rugby League's Upper Central Zone's operations manager Hamana Amoamo says it can give budding athletes someone like them to look up to, someone to emulate, and help drive a passion for the sport itself.
This month, the Māori All Stars men and women will face off against Australia's indigenous men and women in a double-header on the Gold Coast as a way of celebrating Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori history, as well as the contribution Indigenous people have made to rugby league.
Among those representing New Zealand in the Māori men's team on February 22 is Mount Maunganui born Briton Nikora (Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Arawa and Ngāti Awa), who had a breakout year for the Cronulla Sharks last year.
The team also includes Ngāti Ranginui's Bailey Simonsson, the son of Tauranga-born former All Black Paul Simonsson. Bailey Simonsson, who was born in Australia, also flirted with rugby union, playing for the Bay of Plenty Steamers and All Blacks Sevens in 2018 before returning to Australia to play for the Canberra Raiders in the NRL last year.
Amoamo says athletes such as Simonsson and Nikora show local, budding league players they came from the same place they do and can also make it big if that's the journey they wish to take.
"I think our league communities sort of respond well to local athletes who have made it.
"It's good for the local community to see athletes repping the iwi and Tauranga Moana," he says.
Amoamo says showing locals there are hometown stars in their sport can also drive interest in the sport and ultimately, they want to grow the sport, encouraging young people to consider rugby league as a sport and build a love of the game.
This is something the Upper Central Zone is actively involved in, having worked with the Brisbane Broncos for about five years to help the zone's young league players develop.
Amoamo says their next development session will be at Arataki Park on February 29, with about 100 under 13s, U15s and U17s boys and girls players expected to learn skills, drills and more.
He says the goal is to ensure there are continuous local stars to look up to in the sport for future generations and to help rugby league to thrive.
Meanwhile, the women's All Stars game kicks off at 7.10pm (NZT) on Saturday, February 22, followed by the men's fixture at 10.10pm (NZT).
Māori Ferns squad:
Harata Butler (Tainui), Sarina Clark (Tainui), Tanika Jazz Bell-Noble (Ngāti Maniapoto), Laishon Jones (Ngāti Tuwharetoa), Amber Kani (Ngāti Porou), Kerehitina Matua (Te Arawa, Tuhoe), Raecene McGregor (Ngāti Whātua), Corban McGregor (Te Arawa), Capri Paekau (Waikato, Tuwharetoa), Krystal Rota (Te Arawa), Christyl Stowers (Ngapuhi), Kiana Takairangi (Ngāti Kahungunu), Jonsal Tautari (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine), Botille Vette-Welsh (Te Rarawa), Maddison Weatherall (Ngāti Kuri), Geneva Webber (Ngapuhi), Geneva Webber (Ngapuhi), Kathleen Wharton (Ngapuhi), Kat Wira-Kohu (Tuhoe, Ngāti Hine).
Māori All Stars men's squad:
Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Te Atiawa), Adam Blair (Ngapuhi), Jesse Bromwich (Ngāti Paoa), Kenny Bromwich (Ngāti Paoa), Corey Harawira-Naera (Ngapuhi, Ngāti Awa), Jahrome Hughes (Ngapuhi), Isaac Luke (Nga Ruahine Rangi), Esan Masters (Ngāti Maniapoto), Briton Nikora (Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa), Kodi Nikorima (Ngai Tahu, Nga Rauru), Kalyn Ponga (Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi), Kevin Proctor (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngapuhi), Bailey Simonsson (Ngāti Ranginui), Brandon Smith (Te Rarawa), Brad Takairangi (Ngāti Kahungunu), James Tamou (Muapoko), Zane Tetevano (Ngāti Maniapoto), Dylan Walker (Ngāti Kahungunu), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Ngāti Maru), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Ngāti Maru).