All New Zealanders have been aware of this phenonomen for a longtime now. From stories in Auckland of a "white flight" away from rugby union as parents watch their children from the sidelines being monstered by Maori/Pacific Island descendent children of the same age...but almost twice the size & height physically!
Rugby Union is still "New Zealand's game". But its not the only show in town anymore.
The sports to benefit from this changing of the guard are Basketball, Soccer and Rugby League. And alot of the advances these winter codes have made are regionally orientated. Lets look at them.
The NBL is NZ has always had a strong following, particulary in the regions. Crowds of between 1000-4000 regulary pack out indoor stadiums throughout the country, making it without a doubt the 2nd most popular sport spectator wise for a national competition (for male sports - netball draws similar crowds). Canterbury continuely draws the highest attendences for NBL games, due mainly to the magnificent WestpacTrust Centre.
After the Tall Blacks achievements in Indianapolis, its also obvious that the quality of this competition is pretty good as well. Not many of the TB's play overseas, most have been brought up in the local competition.
Even though the Kingz performances in the NSL last year where dismal, soccer is NZ is actually in pretty good heart. At a junior level more youngsters play soccer than rugby union. The Kingz this year have brought in more NZ based players & ditched alot of the Australian Pro's they have had in previous years.
The performances of the All Whites in recent years is a more fair reflection on the quality of the local game. Of the latest All Whites squad, only Chris Jackson comes from the Kingz. The rest are overseas based professionals.
Alot of the growth of soccer comes from the Northern region of the country, perhaps in direct relation to the "white flight" from union mentioned above.
Rugby League in NZ is an interesting study. It was NZ'ers who introduced the game into Australia in the early part of last century thanks to the touring NZ teams dubbed the "All Golds" (directed at them getting paid to play the game).
The game has always been strong in Auckland. Rugby Union has always been dominant there, but Rugby League has always had a strong following in Auckland. Graham Lowe tells a story of being a youngster in Auckland and turning up for Club Grand Finals for the Fox Memorial Trophy with 15,000 people packed into Carlaw Park. The smell of alcohol & dope eminating from the stands almost overpowering. The game in Auckland is heavily dominated deep in South Auckland, especially amongst people of Polynesian descent.
The only time in NZ league history where you could say another province was "better" than them was in the early 1990's, when a Frank Endicott coached Canterbury side containing the likes of Quentin Pongia & Brendon Tuuta was able to beat them on a regular basis. Interestingly about this time Canterbury Rugby Union was probably at its weakest.
Compare this too now where League in Auckland continues to flourish, whereas in Canterbury (& the rest of NZ for that matter) its floundering. The national competition is made up of composite sides of Auckland clubs (for instance Marist & Richmond combining) & actual "provincial" teams from Wellington, Canterbury & a couple of central North Island teams. The crowd support for the competition is almost non-existant, yet the quality of the tournament is quite high, with Daniel Anderson the Warriors coach believing its on a par with reserve grade in Sydney.
The success of the NZ Warriors this season is almost directly attributable to the strength of the game in Auckland.
Yet despite this...
Rugby Union is still number one in the hearts of most NZ'ers. Here in Canterbury the game has never been stronger. A sporting dynasty exists. Otago still has that special "feel" & passion. In the Waikato their NPC team is playing great football. In Wellington at the Cake Tin both the Hurricanes & the NPC side bring in 30,000 crowds. Taranaki continue to play well above themselves, as do Southland on occasions.
In the Far North of the country things aren't looking as rosy. Auckland are in the middle or perhaps the worst period in their history. North Harbour was just thrashed by Canterbury 65 - 10. And Northland are dangerously close to being relegated, mirroring the downfall of the other Northern Region team Counties Manukau last season.
It all makes for an interesting new sporting landscape in NZ, something that has been building for a very longtime.