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'They’ve sacrificed a lot for me': Clark repays family with emotional Maori performance

It's undisputed how tough the last nine months have been for Kiwi expats living in Australia.

The NRL community has seen first-hand the sacrifice the Warriors have made the past two seasons to keep the competition intact, and it's no secret it's been tough on New Zealand-born players who haven't been able to see family and friends because of the difficulty to cross the ditch due to COVID-19.

But despite being away from their homeland, not an iota of passionate Māori culture has been lost in the interim of not being able to return to their native Aotearoa; and the stirring occasion witnessed in both of Saturday's All Stars matches was a clear indication of that. 

Erin Clark in action for the Maori All Stars.
Erin Clark in action for the Maori All Stars.

Particularly for Titans rake Erin Clark in his maiden appearance, who was not only honoured to represent his ancestry, but play for his family and friends who he hasn't been able to see through the pandemic.

"I thought it felt even more special when they started talking about New Zealand and home," Clark said.

"It kind of got me quite emotional because I’ve been away from home for a while and when they start talking about New Zealand... it really hit home for me.

"I have been back [during the COVID period], but I haven’t seen my daughter since then and I think that’s the toughest part.

"All my kids and my family, they’ve sacrificed a lot for me. This is only way I can try and repay them and performing on the field.

The 24-year-old played a starring role in the 16-10 win over the Indigenous All Stars in Sydney at the weekend, but the highlight for many wasn't in fact the footy, but rather the pre-match ceremony which included an incredible showcase of culture that has been described as one of the best ever seen on a rugby league field.

"Even just talking about it now… it was spine tingling. Just even being able to lead [the haka]," Clark said.

"To represent my ancestors and my people back home watching. It was pretty special for me."

Clark and Herbert lead Maori haka

Spending the week immersed in his local heritage, the Auckland-born dummy-half was grateful for his entire All Stars week on and off the field.

"It was a good week. To get in the depth of my culture and where I’m from, just learning bits and pieces about our ancestors and how they used to go to war was good," Clark said.

"The game... it was a bit weird. I dropped a couple of balls but other than that, we had a real emphasis on our defence and I think that showed. Our line-speed and stuff was good.

"I think I needed [the hit-out]. I felt good fitness wise.

"It shows what the high performance staff have done in pre-season has really benefited not just me, but with how Patty played and Dave (Fifita), Will (Smith, Kevvy (Proctor) and Esan (Marsters), so in that sense it was good.

"I also had a good forward pack and it really took a lot of pressure off me [at hooker].

"It’s the same here at the Titans. We’ve got a really good forward pack. It’s exciting."

It was an emotional All Stars debut for the 24-year-old.
It was an emotional All Stars debut for the 24-year-old.

Hoping to star for the Māoris again next year, the suggestion by NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo that the game may head to New Zealand for the first time in 2023 is something Clark would like to see, not only due to Kiwi fans being starved of rugby league, but the chance for the Indigenous sides to be welcomed onto native Māori land.

"It would be good for rugby league and the All Stars itself," Clark said.

"We’ve been here and the Indigenous people have welcomed us to their land, and it’d be nice to take them home to where we’re from and show them how we look after them and how our people are.

"It would be exciting if that did happen."

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Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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