Māori forward Joe Tapine admits to feeling nervous about some of the singing, dancing and ceremonies in Harvey Norman NRL All Stars week but this year wants to make the most of the unique opportunity for his family.
With his wife Kirsten a proud Gamilaroi woman, the Raiders prop has felt an appreciation for both the Māori and Indigenous cultures since his All Stars debut in 2019.
After welcoming daughter IIua into the world last March, the Kiwi international said this year’s All Stars match will also mark a special celebration for his family and the cultures they share within their home.
“Even though I’m playing against her culture, my wife still supports me during All Stars,” Tapine told NRL.com.
“But there's just so much love at this time because my daughter has both cultures in her. And that's beautiful for me.
“In the moment, like in the haka, my head is solely thinking about home and family but during the week I definitely think about my wife and my kid as well.”
With a family connection to Indigenous culture, the 2022 Preston Campbell Medal winner said he took the opportunity in the off-season to visit IIua’s great grandparents in Goodooga, 800km north west of Canberra.
A community of just over 240 people, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people make up about 75 per cent of Goodooga’s population, and Tapine took the opportunity to meet some of the local community.
“There's no phone reception there so you actually get to have real conversations with people and meet the locals,” he said.
“The kids aren’t inside on iPads, they're running around and on bikes everywhere, so it's a real life experience.
“I was honestly just out there seeing my extended family and then I walked around saw some kids at the park and just played with them really. It wasn't planned or anything.
“Some of them did recognise me and some didn’t so, when they realised, we had a game with touch and they started tackling me which was so funny.
“But just seeing how much joy they had on their face, then when they realised I play NRL at the time, we actually got about 15 kids down who all just came out. So it was a good couple of hours.”
Born and raised in Wellington before moving to Australia to pursue rugby league, Tapine said it has been an ongoing challenge to be more open and expressive with his Māori heritage.
Tapine: I can't wait for footy to come
The 2022 Dally M Prop of the Year said he is thankful the All Stars experience can give him a space to learn more about the history of the Māori culture so he too can pass on his learnings to his daughter.
“I'm not going to lie, I'm not brushed up on my Māori side, so I want to keep learning more because that's what my wife does, she's always learning more about her culture and works in the Indigenous space at the Uni," he said.
“I always get a bit nervous at this time of year because there's a lot of culture stuff in the week and I'm not the best at that sort of thing, it gives me a bit of anxiety.
“I don't know what it is, it’s not the haka, I think I just don't like being in front of people singing and dancing in front of people that but that's what our culture is.
“The footy is easy but the culture part of the week is something I really want to get better at for my family.”
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