Taranaki set for historic night
History happens this weekend in New Zealand with Taranaki playing host to its first ever NRL Telstra Premiership match when the Warriors take on the Raiders.
Saturday night's game at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth will also be the first major rugby league event to be held in the region since 2008, when the All Golds faced New Zealand Maori there.
Taranaki Rugby League chairperson Grant Coward told NRL.com there has been a noticeable air of excitement among residents for a number of weeks.
"Everyone is buzzing, not just the league fraternity, I think everyone in general is pumped for it," Coward said.
"It’s the first time it has ever happened and everyone is very expectant. The information I get is that most people don't really care about the result, it's just a great thing to have the Warriors and NRL here.
"It's been a while since we had big-time league here, the All Golds came in 2008, but prior to that and since that we have had virtually nothing.
"The occasion is huge for us."
The match doubles as a homecoming for Warriors hooker Issac Luke, who was born in the region and is counted as one of their finest sporting exports.
Warriors lock Simon Mannering – who will make his comeback from a mouth injury against the Raiders – said it will be a night to remember for Luke.
"It's exciting for Issac, I bet he never dreamt of playing for the Warriors down there in his hometown," Mannering said.
"Hopefully we can make it a good one for him.
"I think he will [lift for the occasion] for sure, playing in front of a lot of friends and family, it will be a great experience for him."
Other notable rugby league players to come out of Taranaki include James Stosic, who played for the Sharks and Titans through the mid-2000s and Howie Tamati, who played over 20 Tests for New Zealand and is the cousin of former Kiwis hardman Kevin Tamati.
Taranaki becomes the latest stopover in a season where New Zealand NRL action has been taken outside of the traditional rugby league heartland of Auckland on a number of occasions.
In the pre-season the Warriors took a game to Nelson in the South Island, while earlier this year the Bulldogs and Panthers played home games in Wellington and Christchurch respectively.
Warriors forward John Palavi said it is an idea the playing group are right behind.
"I think it was good down in Christchurch last week where we got a great crowd. I like when we take the game around New Zealand to different parts, especially where some of the boys are from," Palavi said.
"It will be good experience for those of us who haven't played in Taranaki before, but also for Issac who grew up there."