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The Roar


Tonga Test teaches SANZAAR a lesson

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Roar Guru
22nd October, 2018
3394 Reads

SANZAAR, was anybody within your organisation watching the rugby league Test in Auckland on Saturday?

The sea of red, the stirring singing, a genuinely tough and meaningful contest – Mount Smart Stadium was totally rocking.

Australia versus Tonga was an absolute knockout, building on a spark that flared at the World Cup last year and shows no immediate signs of abating.

If you think Tongans are mad about league, engage them about rugby. Jonah Lomu, the biggest superstar in the game, was one of them.

What about Fiji? Olympic Sevens Champions. Say no more.

In 2015, tiny Samoa was whipped into hysteria when the All Blacks finally played a Test in their country – Samoa nearly won.

There has existed a solid chorus for long time for a Pacific Islands team to join Super Rugby.

What more evidence does SANZAAR need?

Remarkably at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand there were 120 players who were either born in the Islands or consider themselves Pacific Islanders: that accounts for 20 per cent of all the players at the tournament, drawn from three tiny island nations whose combined population is barely a million.


Despite the proven marvel and history of Pacific Island players, what did SANZAAR do when the chance to expand arose? Chased short term dollars and included a manufactured and mediocre Japanese franchise.

Rugby in the Islands runs much deeper than it ever will in Japan. Money can’t buy that passion and heritage.

Cracking the ‘lucrative’ US sports market is viewed by some as a gold mine for rugby. Rugby can certainly made greater indentations in the US, but when contrasted against long established sports, it’s a facility to expect rugby to ever become a ‘big time’ code in North America.

Tongan fans in the crowd

A lone Australian flag is seen in a sea of Tonga fans (AAP Image/David Rowland)

Dwindling attendances and the axing of three teams this year is further illustration of the state of Super Rugby.

In September 2017, after two decades idleness, there was finally some movement on the Pacific Islands franchise. Both New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the government announced a feasibility study into a Pacific Islands rugby team joining Super Rugby.

The feasibility study is being done by Jeremy Curragh, at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000.

Curragh has a background in accounting and management and was the chief executive of Bay of Plenty Rugby before becoming an independent director with the Chiefs and Highlanders when they won Super Rugby titles.


The study will obviously need to be robust and sensible as politically the challenges of putting such a team together could be considerable.

Why don’t SANZAAR show some leadership and back Curragh? Why don’t they chase attainable rough diamonds and improve what they already have instead of looking for pies in the skies?

League has more than once shown up union. League was the first of the games to pay the players, introduce corner flags and video technology. On Saturday, union was shown up again.

Wake up rugby.