The Manly Sea Eagles will wear a special Ngāi Tahu-inspired playing strip for their NRL match against the Warriors in Christchurch in June.
Manly players – including Kiwis Lewis Brown and Martin Taupau – will sport a jersey commissioned by Ngāi Tahu and designed by one of its leading Māori artists and master carver, Fayne Robinson.
Lyall Gorman, Manly’s chief executive, said the uniform move highlighted the Sydney club’s commitment to building a long-term partnership with Christchurch and its community.
Manly has signed up to play home matches at AMI Stadium in 2018 and 2019 with an option for a third match in 2020.
“The strip will have a unique mix of Ngāi Tahu and Manly heritage and will only be worn for our matches in Christchurch,” Gorman said.
“We hope that our relationship with the Canterbury region will extend far beyond those first three years and that the shirt will become synonymous with the strong bond between Manly and the people of the South Island.”
Ngāi Tahu expects to present the special playing uniform to Manly representatives in early April.
Lisa Tumahai, kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, said the partnership was “a great opportunity to advocate hauora and well-being with our whānau and showcase Ngāi Tahu culture and identity”.
“Ngāi Tahu whānau will have a real sense of pride when they see the players take the field with Fayne’s art front and centre,” she said.
Robinson said he felt honoured to be asked to design a Ngāi Tahu-inspired Manly jersey. The request combined his two passions – Māori art and rugby league.
“The shirt design aims to represent the natural divide between our two countries and the eagle crossing the water to make his way to the South Island,” he said.
Match promoter Justin Wallace, who was a former rugby league team-mate of the artist in Rotorua, said it was “a priority to have Ngāi Tahu involved in this event, because Māori players make up a huge percentage of rugby league players, both locally and in the NRL”.
“I am also proud of my own Māori heritage, so it was important to me to have a strong Māori flavour to this match, on and off the field,” said Wallace, who is of Te Arawa descent.
He said over 3000 tickets have already been snapped up, five months before kick-off, and he expected a sold-out AMI Stadium, like the Penrith Panthers match against the Warriors in 2016.
The June 9 match kicks off at 5pm.