With a mid-season hiatus from NRL football, six Pacific teams dominated the regular schedule this past weekend, going head-to-head on the same weekend as the State of Origin games.
Kieran Foran (center) of the Kiwis warms up before the international men’s test match between the New Zealand Kiwis and Tonga in Auckland, New Zealand. Source: Getty † Hannah Peters
NRL veteran Kieran Foran expressed immense pride in donning the New Zealand Kiwi jersey for the 23rd time in his career.
Emotions also ran high among many players. Josh Schuster from Samoa was one of the many players seen crying as the Samoan national anthem was played.
(left to right) Bunty Afoa, Josh Schuster and Josh Aloiai of Samoa sing the national anthem ahead of the international men’s test match between Samoa and the Cook Islands. Source: Getty † Mark Kolbe
Schuster described representing his country as “one of the best moments of my career”.
According to statistics from the NRL, 45 percent of the league is made up of Pasifika or Māori, despite making up less than 2 percent of the national population.
“We are small countries, but we are trying to make a big impact on many of these sports.”
Dancers perform at halftime during the Men’s International Test Match between Samoa and the Cook Islands. Source: Getty † Mark Kolbe
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo announced the league will shift international competition to the end of the season, described as a strategy to expand the presence of international representation.
“Instead of just having one round, we can start thinking about tours, we can start thinking about tournaments, and we can start thinking about regular content every year, instead of just doing a one-off. That’s incredibly exciting.”
Players from Papua New Guinea and Fiji gather for prayer after the game in Sydney. Source: Getty † Mark Kolbe
But Mr Aiesi had already set his sights on next season’s Rep Round, saying “it was pretty disappointing” when he learned of the NRL’s decision to push it to the end of the 2023 season.
Clint Newton, CEO of the Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA), said the round was crucial in ensuring the players who give so much to the game are heard.