FOLLOWING their strong showing at the first ever Clash of Cultures Trans Tasman Series in New Zealand last year, the Mariya have once again done their country proud at the 2019 event.
In a historic first, this year’s series, organised by Wreck Bay’s Bernie McLeod, was the first ever on Australian soil, being held at Wollongong from January 16-20.
On top of that, this was the first time there were four First Nations side selected, with the under 14 boys’ and girls’ teams being added to the program which already featured the men’s and women’s sides.
Throughout the four teams, there was a number of Shoalhaven products, including South Coast Flame’s Matt White, a Shoalhaven Heads-Berry product – who was representing the Mariya for the first time.
“When I received the letter in the mail that I had been selected in the team, I felt so honoured,” White said.
“My dad played for the Indigenous Australian team when he was younger and for me to be able to follow in his footsteps, was a proud moment for me.
“My whole family were proud of me and it was great to have them come and watch the games.”
White and his open men’s team, featuring fellow Shoalhaven stars Tyrone Nye-Williams, Lewis Archibald, Thomas Matthews, David Hampton, Brendan Fordham, Adam Russell, Lochlan Hucman and Jordan Roberts, played three games during the competition – seeing them defeat the South Coast police force (8-1) and Africa Nations Football Association (6-2) while losing to the Wollongong Wolves (2-nil).
“Pulling on that jersey was probably the most emotional time I have had in my football career,” White said.
“Being among all of my brothers you could just sense how honoured everyone was, we knew how lucky we were to be able to have that chance.
“On the pitch, for a team that had not trained together and for many of us had never even met one another, we played some incredible football.
“To hold the Wollongong Wolves at nil-all until 10 minutes to go, only for them to be awarded a controversial penalty, was a huge effort by the boys.
“Personally, I was happy how I played over the weekend and had some positive feedback from our coach Jade North.”
As White alludes to, this tournament ranks right up for him in terms of career achievements.
“I have played a fair bit of representative football in my career but this was the most special,” he said.
“To have the chance to represent my country, my culture and my family, made me feel so blessed.
“We had a lot of elders there watching and to be able play football in front of them was very humbling because they are the ones that fought so hard to be able to give us this opportunity.”
During the competition, the Mariya women’s team, headlined by Shoalhaven’s Summer Dann, Ricki Reid, Shaeley Aldridge, Kalinda Wills, Lexi Carter, Jasmine Tann and Jada Brown, lost to the New Zealand Maori 5-1 twice, while the under 14 girls’ team, featuring Shoalhaven’s Kahliah Brown, Mirina Simms, Keyala Brown, Leotia Brown, Ebonee Luland and Jenna Langennegger and Priscilla Dann, lost to Illawarra Stingrays 3-1 and drew with the Newcastle All Stars.
Finally, the under 14 boys’, containing Shoalhaven’s Thomas Van Oploo, Kahlan Carpenter and Tyreese Parker, won both their games against the Maoris – 4-1 and then 4-2.
“Playing in the first tour on our home soil was a huge honour,” White said.
“I just hope we did our people proud and that we inspired the younger generation to aim to play for their country and people one day.”