Croatian and Maori teams battle it out

Three Northlanders have been selected for the New Zealand Croatian side which hopes to begin a legacy this weekend as it faces off against the Northern Districts' Northern Maori tomorrow.

Brad Bennetto, Dominic Smith-Hodgson and Joseph Yovich will play for the Croatian side which hopes its match at Colin Maiden Park will be the beginning of an annual Twenty20 rivalry between two ground-breaking Kiwi sports brands.

With both sides coming off respective unbeaten tours against the Cook Islands' national team in the off-season, and sporting a mix of district representative, premier club and international players, the stakes are on to prove who will take maiden bragging rights.

New Zealand Croatia has named a customarily strong squad that includes two first-class cricketers, the Auckland Aces' Duan Hakaraia and Northern Districts' Yovich. They join three New Zealanders who have represented Croatia itself at ICC international level in Europe: captain John Vujnovich, his brother Paul Vujnovich and wicketkeeper Tony Govorko.


The launch of a contest between the two sides has been a long time in the planning, Yovich said.

"We were all set to play our first match against Northern Maori at Hamilton's Seddon Park two seasons ago, until rain prevented us getting under way on the day," he said. "That was very disappointing as both teams have a strong heritage focus and enjoy sharing the culture and traditions that we are expressing through cricket. Both teams expect and deliver high standards of play - and we are all thoroughly committed to playing highly competitive fixtures such as we will see on Sunday.

"While we are selected from a wide geographical area, many of us also share a strong familial connection to the same regions in the upper North Island. Historically places like Northland often saw Maori and Croatian families working side by side in the tough old days of the gumfields."

One-Day and Twenty20 International all-rounder Anton Devcich, whose parents emigrated to Hamilton from Croatia, is also a committed member of the squad, but unavailable as he is playing with the Black Caps in Sri Lanka.

Spectators are welcome, with free entry to Auckland's Colin Maiden Park for both games.

Start times are 10.30am and 2pm.