The South Pacific country of Tonga has been introduced to footy fairly recently, but they’ve taken to the sport quickly and have been able to earn their stripes on the international level. The small Polynesian archipelago of roughly 103,000 people is home to many talented athletes.
Tongans have historically favoured other full-contact sports throughout their history, as rugby union is their national sport and rugby league is also widely played in the islands. This influence is apparent in the growing Tongan diaspora, specifically in Australia and New Zealand.
Footy wasn’t introduced to Tonga until the 1980s, when a couple of Australian teachers visited Tongan schools and managed to show the kids the rules of the game. Later on in the 90s, Ewen Gracie, a teacher from Melbourne, worked at a Tongan high school and attempted to establish an ongoing school-based Aussie rules competition with reasonable success
When you think of sports in New Zealand, your mind generally goes to rugby union. The All-Blacks, the country’s national team, are the winningest team in any sport anywhere in the world. But Australia’s Oceanic neighbor is home to a small-but-growing community of Aussie rules footballers.
Footy was introduced to New Zealand in 1868, but the majority of the original clubs were eventually pressured or convinced into switching to soccer or rugby rules. Aussie rules was not seen as a sport that had staying power among Kiwis, and the game didn’t catch on for many decades.
The 2017 Senior competition kicked off with 3 games. The Hon. Minister for Sports attended the opening and tossed the coin to launch the first game. The Opening round was sponsored by Capelle & Partners and Australian Aid.
Bulldogs vs Kangaroos
The first was the Grand Final replay between the Bulldogs and the Kangaroos. After a tight first quarter, the Bulldogs stepped up a gear in the 2nd and 3rd quarters with their star players in Niga Haulangi, Patrick Agadio, Deiri Cook and Nanitten Temaki leading the charge. Donatello Moses was lively up forward but it was Jose Uepa who normally play defence who was unstoppable in the forward line bagging a personal best of 6 goals. For the Roos, Mikey Hiram won plenty of the ball and he was supported by Jarmen Pole and Charles Dagiaro.
The dangerous Bronco Deidenang was their only shining light up forward kicking 7 goals. Recruit Skaga Dowabobo also performed well and held his own against Bulldogs ruckman Lennox Agege. In the end, the Dogs had more options and more winners across the ground running out comfortable winners by 38 points.
The smallest island nation in the world, Nauru has a notable and sizable presence in the international Aussie rules community. With 680 registered junior and senior players out of a population of roughly 10,000, Nauru has the highest participation rate of any country in the world (30-35%).
That’s pretty impressive for a nation that is less than a century old and covers less than 10 square miles.
Nauru is a tiny phosphate rock island in the central Pacific, located just south of the Equator in the vicinity of several archipelago-nations, including the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati.
Despite being very close geographically, Australia and Papua New Guinea might seem like being worlds apart in culture and lifestyle. But in the realm of sports, the two countries are very similar – Papua New Guinea’s national sport is rugby league, making it one of the few countries besides Australia to favor rugby league over rugby union.
But the country is also home to a very passionate footy community, which the locals typically refer to as “AFL” or just “Rules.”
Papua New Guinea was an Aussie territory for many years, establishing partially autonomous rule shortly after World War II, but not becoming a fully independent nation until 1975. Given these historic ties, it’s not surprising that the sport of Aussie rules has a well-established history in PNG.
Footy was first played in PNG in 1944 in the city of Lae, where a number of Australian schoolteachers and military personnel were located. Lae, the second-largest city in PNG, proved to be an ideal spot for an Aussie rules community to grow over the next few decades, as the game spread to other large cities, including the capital, Port Moresby.
One of the most sport-crazed countries in the Pacific, the islands of Fiji have long lacked a presence in Aussie rules football. It’s overshadowed significantly by rugby union, the Fijian national sport, but footy has made some strong gains in recent years.
AFL matches were first televised in Fiji in 2002, and the league saw that there was potential to reach the Fijian population and help establish footy as both a spectator sport and a participation sport. By 2005, the Fiji Daily Post had beat writers covering AFL games, in addition to the much more established sports of rugby union, rugby league, and netball.
Around the same time, a group of Aussie police officers stationed near the Fijian capital of Suva helped get some local athletes involved. The Aussies founded the Fijian Australian Football Association (FAFA) that year, with the goal of keeping it as the national governing body for footy. They attempted to get a national footy team into the 2007 South Pacific Games, which were being held in Fiji, but they couldn’t qualify in time due to a lack of players and funding. The FAFA went on hiatus as they attempted to organize a local competition.
The Nauru All Stars have started their two match tour with a big win over the The Zillmere Eagles by 12 goals.
The young Stars stood out with their speed and agility around the field, which became too much for the Eagles. Young Jeremiah Kam, Niga Haulangi and veteran Timothy Teabuge dominated in defence while Donatello Moses and Yoshi Harris did most of the damage up forward.
Vice captain Mallinson Batsiua using his strength and experience to dominate the centre clearances.
Yoshi Harris won the All Stars Coach's best on ground while Niga Haulangi awarded Zillmere Eagles vote for best player.
The following is a story from EMTV in PNG. It details the great work being done by AFL PNG staff along with development officers from Australia as they conducted coaching clinics this week in Port Moresby.