You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content

As soon as you walk into Warriors club HQ at Mt Smart Stadium you're greeted by the beautifully hand carved piece of art which serves as a reminder of the culture the club is built around and the journey everyone there is on together. 

The wooden waka (Māori watercraft) is something everyone at the club, from the players through to backroom staff, own part of, no matter their nationality or culture.

And while it sits permanently in the reception area, the hoe (paddle) which accompanies it travels everywhere the NRL team does and is a symbol of everyone being in the same waka which will carry them to success. 

"It connects with every part of our country," Warriors CEO Cameron George said. 

Everyone who comes and is part of the club will see in it a connection to their culture and it speaks a thousand words, while only having very minimal wording on it.

Cameron George

"It's something we are very proud of it. 

"We have that as part of our presentation and induction... when we have a staff member or player thinking about joining our club, we want them to join our waka."

The introduction of the waka and hoe is part of an effort to connect and recognise the many cultures which make up the Warriors, with the concept born out of the realisation that they lost their way in that area during the pandemic, while forced to base themselves out of Australia.

The emotional Mt Smart return

It was at that point that George sought the help of Dave Rennie, who at the time was the Kiwi coach charged with running a Wallabies team made up of players from a vast array of cultural groups and backgrounds. 

"When I sat with Dave I put my hand up and said, 'mate, we've lost our identity as a club. We have people here who don't know what we stand for, because they have never been to Mt Smart or connected with our fanbase', George said. 

"I spent ample time with Dave learning about what he did and understanding how to bring together multiple cultures under one banner.

"He explained they had 'Wazza' (an illustrated figure in a Wallabies jersey which accompanied the team wherever they went) who they all owned a piece of, it didn't matter what culture you are or where you come from.

"We took a lot of learning from him and then set off on our own pathway. Together as a club and team we developed something quite special to us."

Ūkaipō: The homecoming

Another important factor has been the appointment of former player Wairangi Koopu as the club's cultural ambassador this year.

Koopu, who is a fluent Te Reo Māori speaker, is tasked with incorporating Māori customs and practices into the club's everyday operations, while also educating players and staff on dates and events of cultural significance. 

Earlier this year that included addressing the group ahead of Waitangi Day, with plans to do the same later in the year for NRL Indigenous Round and Matariki, which marks the start of the Māori new year. 

Koopu said that in addition to his own discussions with the club, captain Tohu Harris has been instrumental in the push to better celebrate culture at the Warriors. 

Wairangi Koopu made 159 appearances for the Warriors between 1999-2008. Photo:
Wairangi Koopu made 159 appearances for the Warriors between 1999-2008. Photo:

"About a year ago Tohu really put forward that they wanted to have more of a cultural understanding around the team and a lot more identity around the club," Koopu said. 

"They already embrace some Māori culture in terms of their logo, and the translation of Warrior referring to a Māori Warrior.

"It's my job to introduce practices like pōhiri (welcome ritual), because the land that Mt Smart Stadium sits on belongs to Ngāti Whātua, so we recognise them as custodians of our club.

"It's important to acknowledge any new players and coaching staff each year so they are no longer waewae tapu (sacred to the land) and they are tangata whenua (people of the land). 

"To be able to guide the team in a direction that can benefit them going forward, and lay down a foundation that will supersede any playing staff, admin or even owner, is fantastic."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

Principal Partner

Major Partners

Official Sponsors

View All Partners