Eight years ago, Hayze Perham was a 15-year-old hopeful playing in a Māori rugby league tournament in Rotorua when his silky skills were seen by an Australian NRL scout.
Perham’s life changed forever.
Now the 23-year-old is a hometown hero and Saturday’s NRL Māori All Stars crowd is expected to roar as he runs on to the familiar Rotorua International Stadium field.
Perham, of Ngāti Tuwharetoa descent, might be making his debut for the Māori All Stars side but coach Ben Gardiner will rely on his experience with 16 NRL matches under his belt to help gel some of the newer players brought into the squad at last the minute.
As a kid growing up in Rotorua, Perham’s winters were made up of rugby on Saturday and league on Sunday.
He made the Rotorua Boys’ High School First XV as a youngster in Year 11 and went on to captain the side in Year 13.
Principal Chris Grinter described him as committed, focused and “a silent achiever”.
“He never wasted words and had focus and skill for everyone to see. Step by step he built a pathway into a professional career.”
Grinter told the Rotorua Daily Post Perham was a great example of someone who lapped up everything presented to him.
“It’s so pleasing to see him forge a career, and it’s not been without challenges, in professional sport.”
It was Penrith Panthers recruitment manager Mark Hughes who noticed Perham in 2015 at the New Zealand Māori Rugby League Rangatahi tournament in Rotorua. At the time, he said Hayze was a “special talent”. He said he would be given every opportunity to reach his full potential but “he will control his own destiny over the next few years”.
Perham has since etched out his career, eventually signing with the New Zealand Warriors before heading to the Paramatta Eels. This year he has been signed by the Canterbury Bulldogs.
Perham said the rangatahi Māori league tournaments - which for several years have been home in Rotorua - were the catalyst for his career.
“I have been playing in these national Māori tournaments since I was about 14 and 15.”
Having the opportunity to be around star rugby players at a young age helped shape where he wanted to go, he said.
“I got to play in the New Zealand U15 Māori and we were able to get around some big names. We got jersey presentations from Bully Isaac Luke and Adam Blair and I was fortunate to then train with them and be coached by them so it was an awesome experience.”
Perham was put up at a press conference for national and international media after the first Māori All Stars training session in Rotorua this week and, despite his age, fielded questions such as whether he was disappointed some players pulled out of this week’s clash last minute.
“Yeah, it is disappointing but at the same time it gives people a new opportunity to come play,” he told the media pack.
“We have got awesome new young talent coming in. We had people being called in an hour before our camp commenced so it’s been pretty cool to see them thrive in their new opportunity.”
Perham said Tuesday’s pōhiri was “extra” for him.
“It’s home and every time I get to come back here even just on holiday to see family is special.”
Perham said having the game in Rotorua meant a lot - but also meant he’d blow his ticket allocation. He joked he was on the hunt for more tickets for his large family and group of friends still in Rotorua and Taupō.
“It’s extra special for me being able to play in the New Zealand Māori with people I’ve looked up to in my whole career.
“It’s an awesome moment and getting it down in Rotorua in my hometown is pretty much a dream come true. I couldn’t pitch a debut in a national team any better so I’m looking forward to it.”
Perham is not the only former boys’ high star player debuting for the Māori All Stars on Saturday.
West Tigers’ Tukimihia Simpkins was last week called into the side after some players withdrew due to injury.
The 21-year-old forward has proudly represented his Māori heritage at u15s and u17s, but told Australian media last week to do so for the All Stars on home turf was something special.
Grinter told the Rotorua Daily Post to have two former students in the team was a proud moment.
“Like Hayze, he went straight from school into a professional environment. He slowly built his credibility and there’s no doubt this selection for him will be a highlight of his career to date.”
Grinter said principals always took great pride when their students did well.
“In the tough old world of professional sport, commitment and dedication and a clear focus can see you achieve on the world stage at the highest level.”
- The All Stars jersey presentation will happen on Thursday at the Night Market at 5pm.
- Gates open on Saturday at 1.15pm with a friendly game of touch between Indigenous and Māori All Stars at 2.15pm. The women’s game kicks off at 3.30pm and the men’s match kicks off at 5.45pm.
- Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.