Members of the Indian community in New Zealand evince wide interest in Cricket, Hockey and Soccer, but 18-year-old Nirraj Heer is paving the way for Indian Kiwis to try their hand at playing Rugby League.
Rugby League has a rich history in New Zealand having celebrated its centenary in 2010, and ‘the Kiwis’ (the National Team) winning the Rugby League World Cup 2008 and the 2010 Four Nations Tournament.
Played predominantly by people of European, Maori and Pacific Island descent, it has gained popularity in recent years with members of New Zealander Indians.
Nirraj began his Rugby League career after a friend asked him to play in a game.
He tried and has not looked back since.
“I was playing soccer at the age of 14 but my friend reckoned I had a good build for Rugby League. My reaction was, ‘Rugby League? What is that?’ It took me a while learning the skills and rules of the Game, but I am alright now,” he said.
His parents Balkar Singh and Jaswinder Kaur migrated to New Zealand respectively in 1989 and 1993 from their native Punjab in India.
When they first watched their son play, they were concerned about injuries, training and the physicality of the game.
“My mum was pretty concerned, but once she saw how much I enjoyed it, she was very supportive,” Nirraj said.
He plays in the Prop position, made his first-grade debut for the Manurewa Marlins in the Auckland Fox Memorial Competition this year, and has been a regular in the Marlins Under 20 team.
Known to his teammates as ‘Raj’, Heer is excited at the prospect for playing in representative teams in the future and dreams of playing in the Australian Toyota Cup Competition.
Nirraj is the only one in his family playing Rugby League and is keen to make them proud.
Many within the community have set up social Rugby League competitions around Auckland, with social teams from Mt Roskill, Botany, Papatoetoe and other regions.
“Rugby league is a game for all shapes and sizes, you can be big like me or you can be short and skinny, but it would be OK, as long as you are tough,” he said.
When asked if more members of the Indian community should play Rugby League, Nirraj mentioned fellow clubman Maneel Kumar (featured in Indian Newslink, March 1, 2011), Marist Saints player Gurdeep Singh and Northcote Tigers player David Bhana.
Another League buff
The Bhana family has a long history in the Game, with David’s Grandfather, father and his four brothers having played Rugby League.
The Bhana family proudly trace their roots to India as well as Scotland.
David is also part Maori from his mother’s side.
He played his first year in Auckland’s premier Rugby League competition this year. He is also a member of the Vodafone Warriors Development Squad and was recently named in the NZ Residents 18s Squad.
Having represented Auckland and the New Zealand Maori team in the past, David credits his family for his blossoming career.
“My parents have had a huge influence on my career because they support me by taking me to training and to my games,” he said.
He still finds time to play Cricket for Birkenhead City during summer.
“Anyone can play Rugby League, big or small, we all love it and it’s great to see more Indian Kiwis playing the game,” Bhima said.
For those in the Auckland region wanting to try rugby league or find a nearby club go to www.aucklandleague.co.nz