Api Pewhairangi's family celebrates his debut with a Haka
Monday 13 May 2013 4:30 PM
Football players see a lot of special moments. Playing first grade, scoring tries, winning big matches - so many they can sometimes be forgotten.
But for Api Pewhairangi, the moment after making his first grade debut for the Pirtek Parramatta Eels couldn't have been more memorable.
After the side's 19-18 win over the Brisbane Broncos, the Eels centre's brother and cousins greeted him outside the Eels sheds with a traditional Maori haka. The eyes of everyone nearby were transfixed on the Pewhairangi family's pride, enthusiasm and unity behind their relative.
"At first when I saw them all there I was like no, it's embarrassing, don't do it here," Api recalls.
"But quickly I was like, 'this is who I am and what we do', and I'm just a proud Maori."
Making his debut in the top Eels side meant his relatives flew in from all over New Zealand and around Australia.
"Having them all over here- my mum, my dad, brother, sister, cousins and my Newcastle parents who looked after me for three years when I was up there- it's not something that happens every day and it's all special."
Api's mother Irene says she was getting goosebumps watching the haka paying tribute to her son.
"The haka is a sign of respect and to acknowledge that we're all proud of him and happy for him," she said.
"I knew they were going to do it, I just wasn't sure when - and it was such a nice surprise for Api."
Api's younger brother Te Aorere, who also plays for Parramatta in the Talent Development Squad, says the haka is not only used for challenges as most people recognise, but also for celebrations and congratulations.
"We're saying to him we're proud of you, and we're congratulating him for his work and we're showing our respect for him," he said.
21 year old Pewhairangi left New Zealand to try his hand at rugby league in Australia when he was 16, spending four seasons in the National Youth Competition with the Newcastle Knights before moving to Parramatta at the start of this season.
"It's awesome to watch him play on the big stage because he's the first one of our family to achieve something like this," Api's cousin Mohi Aupouri said.
"I mean we all play junior footy here in Parramatta and in New Zealand but Api has done so well."
Api says it was a perfect way to cap off a winning first-grade debut.
"It was such an incredible moment. Maori was my first language and all my life I've grown up and it's just a part of me."
Watch Api being interviewed on the field straight after our win in his debut first grade game.