The importance of the Hong Kong rugby tour to members of the Queensland Tonga Rugby program is obvious, with the tour and fixtures a historic first for a community Pacific rugby team, but what is also becoming evidently clear is that the tour is also shaping as a vital opportunity in a time when opportunities are alarmingly scarce for players at the grassroots level.
It is hard to remember Australian rugby being in a worse position that the one it currently finds itself in, currently grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons, where one of the predominant themes continually point to the neglect of rugby at the grassroots level.
The Queensland Tonga Rugby program was proud to recently announce Sunnybank loose forward Chazz Mahina and University of Queensland’s Mele Akuila as the official captain’s for the inaugural Hong Kong tour as the duo have been named to headline a strong list of other Tongan men and women in the touring party from Queensland.
New South Wales centre Alfie Paea has also been brought in to complete interstate Tongan representation, while flyhalf Sione Kite has also been brought in from New Zealand to cover trans Tasman relationships.
But it is the naming of quality players like Pat Fepuleai (Samoa), Richard Aitsi, Nigel Genia (PNG) and female players like Neevah Ah Ki (Queensland Samoa), Vetaronnica Fomai (Queensland Samoa), Marlugu Dixon (Queensland PNG), Asako Ono (Japan) and Lori Cramer (Australia) that have given the tour even more resonance at a community level.
“As other committee members have said before me, this Hong Kong tour is a culmination of years of hard work for Queensland Tonga Rugby Union, but we just felt it was too good of an opportunity not to share with other members from our community, here, interstate and abroad. The blessing has always been about giving.”
Speaking from his base in Hong Kong, Queensland Tonga Rugby Union committee member Siosiua Afu also believed the tour was a chance for the program to also do its bit for women’s rugby as well.
“Look, its pretty obvious women’s rugby still have to overcome a number of obstacles back home, but we feel exposing those who have not had a chance to play elite competition before from the community or others an extra opportunity they may not have otherwise had can only be a good thing when they return to their clubs and for the overall state of womens rugby.”
“There is an Everest still to climb to make this trip a reality but hopefully the community can see what we are trying to achieve and will get behind us in our efforts to raise money.”
The former Ikale Tahi representative believed that in light of the well documented issues at the grassroots, it perhaps shows more than ever why grassroots programs and clubs must take the initiative before the damage becomes irreparable.
“The rebuild starts at the bottom, at the foundation and for us, starts with taking control of our own destiny while the guys higher up get their house in order.”
The time to get to work has begun.