Queensland Tonga Rugby Union was recently enlisted by NRL Tongan Liaison officer Kalita Setefano to play its part in assisting to support the efforts of the Mate Ma’a Tonga team. As a result, the QTRU conceived the #TongaRise cause to rally the Tongan people behind the Tongan team. The whole experience was a thoroughly enjoyable and successful one, however it was what was learnt observing from “behind enemy lines” that really proved the most eye catching part of the entire experience.
Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
The old Chinese proverb seems to have been in the forefront of the NRL’s thinking when they again delivered the highly successful and most recent Pacific tests involving PNG and Fiji, and traditional foes Tonga and Samoa, as an exercise in guaranteed long term success for Pacific Islanders, both on and off the field.
With codes jostling with one another in competition for the imaginations of the public, continuing to promote an event that involves non- Australian sporting teams going head to head on Australian soil, could easily have been seen as committing strategic business suicide.
Those pessimistic sentiments were not uncommon or absent in the community particularly early on in the piece, since the NRL began investing into Pacific Tests. The most memorable, via rugby league journo and commentator Paul Kent, who notoriously questioned the viability of the concept and why the NRL should stop their main domestic season to include such trivial fixtures.
The benefit of hindsight has proved those sentiments short sighted, but at the time and under intense scrutiny, even armed with a fair amount of data supporting Kent’s comments, highlighting the NRL’s administrative bravado and absolute belief in the concept…they persisted regardless.
Delving deeper into the unconventional tactics, the approach perhaps unearths the NRL’s intricate appreciation and understanding not only of the financial demographic they are dealing with but also and perhaps more importantly, Pacific Island cultural sensitivities and negotiation techniques built on the premise of loyalty earned is loyalty given. The intrinsic blue collar values of this approach which rugby league is built on, would no doubt resonate with many Pacific people, where strong family values play a big part in the makeup of all Pacific communities.
The NRL’s latest display of Pacific goodwill is the latest mini investment in a series of many others made in previous years into Pacific players and their talents. The strategy moves towards securing the long term commitment of a community to a code, where it is rapidly becoming the dominant force in the game, where the NRL will ultimately see a rich return on its faithful investment, and undoubtedly play a major part in securing the code’s long term future moving forward.
That return is already being seen today, with the swelling stocks of Pacific Island players not just playing top level rugby league but also thriving as well, with forecasts predicting that number to only grow further and to continue flourishing in coming years.
Thus, creating a metaphoric Pacific conveyor belt similar to the one that plays a huge part in the success of the All Blacks and the New Zealand rugby system, which their Australian Rugby Union counterparts to date, have arguably failed to a certain extent, to activate or replicate across the Tasman.
Aside from the financial aspect of its investment, the QTRU was also able to witness firsthand how the NRL went about empowering Pacific people to assist in the administering of its investment into Pacific Tests. The ploy a further master stroke, creating a sense of responsibility, and a feeling of accountability of Pacific people not only for the success of their teams but also for the overall success of the initiative.
These developments are a refreshing change from the recent issues currently facing Pacific rugby union players across the globe, playing in a variety of different markets contending with clubs and organisations adopting business models that many could argue, place the interests of Pacific players at the opposite end of the spectrum than the one our league friends are adopting.
It also acts as hope for Pacific rugby union players that there is a potential solution out there for those issues surrounding them, if governing bodies think outside conventional methods and in good faith.
The old Chinese proverb used in the opening of this piece is laced with themes surrounding sustainability, longevity and prosperity and when it comes to the NRL and their attempts in the Pacific community not to mention other markets like women, and youth in league which are essential to its long term future, it appears to definitely be heading in the right direction.
As hard as it is to admit, particularly as passionate advocates for the rival code, a deserved tip of the hat is owed to our friends in the rugby league fraternity… let’s just try to not make it too much of a regular occurrence.
By James Kite