In the first weekend of the 2014 Kings and Queens of Pacific Rugby tournament held at Norths Rugby Union the goal for the Tongan women’s team was simple, to improve and be competitive from the previous year to hopefully close the gap on the top group in the women’s division.
Bolstered by players who were recently capped via the International Manu Sina 7’s team, the Tongan’s first game against traditional rivals Queensland Samoa was going to be a difficult first obstacle to overcome.
However, as soon as the opening whistle blew, the improvement in the Tongan women was evident from the outset, particularly in their passing and in their defensive work, placing their Samoan rivals under constant pressure with all the Tongan girls collectively embracing the task at hand.
Some sharp incisive running by Neevah Ah Ki and some strong physical efforts by the outstanding Asipau Mafi kept the Tongans on the front foot, while stand in skipper Mele Akuila played an outstanding captain’s knock marshalling her troops around the field.
Fittingly, it was Akuila’s intercept and inspiring 40 metre dash to the try line with a Samoan defender hot on her heels that eventually iced the game for the Tongans and secured a hard fought 12-0 win.
The games against the powerful Queensland Maori and Dreamtime were always going to be difficult assignments, but they would also provide the Tongan girls with a very real yard stick as to just how far they had come in terms of their development.
After playing some outstanding football in the first half and going into half time at 5 a piece, some costly handling errors and defensive lapses resulted in the talented Maori squad going onto win 10-24. The rapidly improving Liliani Ngauamo and the tenacious Eseta Fangaloka were particularly prominent in a defiant team performance against the Maori women.
Against the powerhouse Dreamtime, the Tongan women were forced to do a mountain of defensive work against some slick ball work from the Indigenous women and ultimately yielded 3 quick tries that earnt the Indigenous girls the lead for the match. This was a lead they would not relinquish until the end of the game.
The extra defensive work had a huge part to play in the Tongans not being able to take full advantage of some crucial half chances that would have brought the game within reach when 2 tries went begging with the line wide open.
In a great sign for things to come, in years gone by, the Queensland Tongan women would have been guilty of capitulating if they found themselves 3 tries down to any team, but credit to their new resolve and building player culture, the women kept fighting and were rightfully rewarded with a try to standout player for the first weekend Asipau Mafi.
After a solid first showing in arguably the toughest side of the draw, it appears that the goals of the 2014 Queensland Tonga women’s program are definitely within reach or have already been surpassed through the hard work of the entire group. It is that hard work that has seen the previous gulf between the Tongan girls and those in front of them closing at rapid knots.
It is now up to the Tongans to determine just how much that gulf has closed by, in the remaining weeks of the KQPR competition. Do they have it in them to go even closer? Time will tell.