23 Oct 2020

Tonga- Niue league international rekindles memories

5:58 pm on 23 October 2020

Some forgotten memories of Tonga's first national women's rugby league team will be restored, when the kingdom play Niue in Auckland next month.

November's Test match has revived the memory of the trailblazing women who represented Tonga for the first time.

November's Test match has revived the memory of the trailblazing women who represented Tonga for the first time. Photo: Supplied

The game will act as a curtain raiser to the Kiwi Ferns v Fetu Samoa match on 7 November at Mt Smart Stadium, exacty 17 years since both teams made their international debut at the 2003 Rugby League World Cup.

Former head coach of the women's 'Heilala o Tonga' established in 2013, Caroline Matamua, said the upcoming match had revived the memory of the trail-blazing women who represented Tonga for the first time.

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Photo: Supplied

"Because they played at a very early stage there is very little writing and history on them," she said.

"In 2013 the history of the women's team was reset, so the 2003 team were kind of forgotten... earlier this year I managed to find one player, and when I found one I found all of them and so we got talking and we connected. Within two weeks we got them together, we livestreamed them and everyone was like 'wow, we didn't even know this team existed in 2003."

"It just brings back a lot of good memories while also remembering a really important journey and people along the way in terms of developing the women's game."

The 2003 squad was founded by the godfather of Tonga rugby league, George Mann Senior, in hopes to have a women's Tongan team compete internationally for the first time.

It was also the only team to have secured any silverware for the Tonga women's side since it's genesis.

Players of the first women's Mate Ma'a Tonga team to compete at a World Cup.

Players of the first women's Mate Ma'a Tonga team to compete at a World Cup. Photo: Supplied

Matamua, a Niue international that also played against Tonga at the 2003 World Cup, said it was a stepping stone for a number of Pacific players who went on to play in the National Rugby League Women's competition and to represent New Zealand.

"The very first Hakula women's team had newbies that went on to become Kiwi's and NRL players today like Teuila Fotu-Moala, Lilieta Maumau, Vanessa Molia and Aieshaleigh Smalley."

"But it's the women before them that we need to acknowledge as well because they are part of our history and part of that journey," she explained.

Kiwi Ferns player Teuila Fotu-Moala.


Since reconnecting online, the pioneers have formed an all-women led group aimed at developing women's rugby league in Tonga.

Matamua said she was amazed to see the change in attitudes towards women playing rugby league in the kingdom.

"It's amazing that the same women that were forgotten 17 years ago are the same women that are spearheading the first ever all women's committee for Tonga women's rugby league."

"It's a very strong, Christian-based, modest, conservative country and in 2003 they struggled to put that team together and it was a big thing, and now we have men in these same places that are supporting us."

The New Zealand based players will reunite for the first time when they watch the women's games next month.

Matamua said shes proud see Pacific nations leading the way, and is a sign the women's game is becoming more accepted in the region.

"I would imagine other woman during these eras that have captured the last three decades of the game, watching these games and feeling heart felt emotions and joy to see it happening."

"To see our Pacific women in this male dominated sport and space... it's a celebration, and the women are quite excited because they haven't stepped foot on another green paddock since 2003."