For such a long time, you would be able to read an NRL teamsheet without spotting an unusually longer name. In this day and age, you will never be able to see a team list without three or more Polynesian names listed.
The Polynesian race has been giving the NRL, for such a long time, great players who provide great moments for the game. For instance,
the Sonny Bill Williams shoulder charge on Joel Clinton in ’04 – who can forget the spray from that hit!
Or what about Jarryd Hayne’s try against the Dragons in ’09 where he stepped through half a dozen players and almost bowled over the ref!
Countless memories, from wonderful players, have been made in the NRL over time. On Saturday just past, we saw another great attribute of Pacific rugby league. Two nations, head to head, with no regard of human life, but with all the respect in the world for each other.
Tonga and Samoa played their hearts out and provided the best match of the week, far surpassing their dominant rivals of Australia and New Zealand.
All this being said, the Pacific nations still do not receive the respect and treatment that they deserve.
A large talking point of the week was the inclusion of Fijian representative Semi Radradra in the Australia line-up. Last year, Radradra playing for Fiji in the inaugural Tests against Papua New Guinea. The inclusion of Radradra sparked a debate about the higher nations poaching the best that the Pacific nations had to offer.
New Zealand are notorious for fielding Samoan and Tongan players (there are also those who choose to play for Samoa, even if New Zealand is their birth country).
You do not have most of these teams in full strength without the talent of a Polynesian-based player.
After all is said and done, players will always be attracted to the money and the higher chance of winning, than playing for the smaller Pacific nations.
However, the games on Saturday showed the NRL that there are still a huge range of players willing to play for pride, heart and family honour, rather than money.
With this being said, the spectacle of two Pacific Tests a year, between the four countries, is an outstanding idea. However, the Tests are not frequent enough. The Tests in May are something to look forward to – but we cannot just wait for once a year. The NRL need to adjust this, as it draws massive crowds and is a great hype.
The absolute treasure the Pacific nations can take from the weekend past is that they have shown the top-tier nations the pride of playing for your country. They absolutely embarrassed the Friday night game of Australia and New Zealand, and did it emphatically.
Why aren’t the NRL endorsing Pacific rugby league more and allowing the game to grow in their respective countries? What more do these nations have to do to prove to the NRL that these games deserve to be played more frequently, even as a possible Test series?
The festivities of Saturday have proved that the quality of rugby league played by these nations is far more impressive than the higher ranked nations.
If the smaller nations continue to get so little endorsement and game time, the nations’ football desire and competitiveness will slowly decrease. The NRL and IRL need to allow the Pacific nations to grow, and fix the eligibility rules to find equality, so that the game of rugby league is more competitive.
Having only three strong nations makes for a boring international stage, and sets up for an even more boring World Cup in 2016.
The game needs to grow – and it must first grow in the Pacific nations.
The talent is there. The players are there. The pride is definitely there. For the sake of the game, please do something to help these nations reach their full potential – and let’s see a more competitive international stage.