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Kiana relishing cultural education at All Stars

Kiana Takairangi has fond childhood memories of following her older brother Brad around the house mimicking him as he would try and perform the Haka.

Despite growing up with a dad and a brother who played rugby league, Kiana didn't yet know women could play rugby league.

So it was beyond comprehension that that one day she would get the opportunity to perform the Haka at a significant rugby league game while representing her family and cultural heritage.

This Saturday night both Kiana and Brad will have that chance when they play for the Maori All Stars teams in the men's and women's All Stars matches.

For Kiana, this is the realisation of a goal she set herself a year ago.

"I watched Brad play in the fixture last year and it was really special. I set myself a goal last year to make sure I made the squad so I'm thrilled to be here and to be here with him," says Kiana.

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For many in the rugby league community, this fixture is a wonderful opportunity to learn about our players and their cultural heritage.

This game is about more than rugby league, it also gives players the chance for cultural expression and we have seen plenty of that in the lead up to the games.

But while many of us are learning, we sometimes forget that the players are learning too.

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Kiana's mother is Maori and was born in New Zealand and her father is from the Cook Islands. But Kiana was born in Australia which means she has plenty to learn about her own background.

"I was born in Sydney, so I didn't grow up immersed in my culture. Corban [McGregor] was the same, I think she came over here when she was two, so this is new for both of us," Kiana says.

"We are learning a lot about our culture and trying to embrace it. Some of our teammates giggle when they hear our pronunciation of words in our Australian accents, but they have been very supportive and we are learning a lot from them."

Kiana has also been surprised after spending some time with the Indigenous All Stars, just how many similarities there are between the two cultures.

A good example of that is the importance of totems. In Maori culture, totems or pouwhenua are traditionally wooden and are hand carved. They are used to mark territory or to mark an important place.

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Totems are also significant in Aboriginal culture and are objects which are passed down through clans and act like a spiritual emblem. They help groups of people define relationships and responsibilities.

But one of the important learnings for Kiana this week has been about the significance of the Haka and the team had a conversation earlier this week about why it is so important.

"One of our coaches specialises in that space and talked to us in-depth about how significant it is and how meaningful it is in Maori culture," she said.

"It is an honour to do the Haka to represent our people. It isn't just people in the present but also people from the past."

We are learning a lot about our culture and trying to embrace it

Maori All Stars player Kiana Takairangi

Given the Haka's rich history, it is unsurprising that some of Kiana's teammates are nervous about performing the ritual. Kiana is too.

"I'm lucky that I've had a couple of go's at the haka through my time with the Kiwi Ferns. So I have a little bit of confidence going in but I know Corban is a little bit nervous because it’ll be her first one," says Kiana

"We can do as much practice as we like, but it won’t be until the evening of the match where it will all come together."

Speaking of that preparation, I press Kiana on just how much team has been practicing.

She assures me that the team’s haka will be better than the Tik Tok videos which have emerged from camp.

"We'll be ready. I promise we have been practicing the Haka far more than our dance moves for our Tik Tok videos."