The Maori King and his delegation will be special guests at the Vodafone Warriors' NRL Indigenous Round match against the Sydney Roosters at Mount Smart Stadium today (5.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Canterbury of New Zealand).

Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII, his wife Te Makau Ariki and other distinguished guests have accepted an invitation to attend what will be the first NRL Indigenous Round game played in Aotearoa.

This year, for the first time, the round will also recognise and honour New Zealand’s indigenous people and culture.

The Vodafone Warriors have worked closely with a cultural adviser ahead of the game and club legend Wairangi Koopu will lead the team onto Mount Smart Stadium before kick-off.

As well as wearing a spectacular jersey which pays homage to New Zealand’s Maori culture, the Vodafone Warriors will participate in a pre-game whakatau to welcome the Sydney Roosters onto their land.

Included in the whakatau (formal welcome) will be a wero (challenge) to the Roosters before a karanga calls them onto the field.

This will be followed by a  haka pōhiri (ritual welcome), whaikōrero (speech) and a waiata (song).

To conclude the ceremony, Vodafone Warriors hooker Issac Luke (Ngā Ruahine Rangi, Te Atiawa) and Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell, who is of Indigenous Australian heritage, will exchange gifts and hongi.

The Roosters will be presented with a pounamu, which has been chosen as a symbol of unity between New Zealand and Australia’s indigenous peoples, while the Vodafone Warriors will receive a traditional indigenous Australian percussion instrument called clapping sticks.

“We are incredibly honoured that Kiingi Tuheitia has accepted our invitation to attend tomorrow’s game,” said Vodafone Warriors CEO Cameron George.

“This is a huge occasion for our club, players and fans and we are very much looking forward to paying tribute to New Zealand’s Maori people while also recognising the great indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islands players who have represented this club, too.

“We are hoping to pack the stadium out for what promises to be an incredible game day experience.”