I grew up playing rugby in Tonga since I learned how to walk. Lunchtime throughout elementary/primary school consisted of a chaotic form of rugby where there were no rules apart from picking a team and scoring a try. It was not until high school that I experienced organized and formal rugby in the form of the national high school competition. Up to the age of 15 yrs, all my experience in playing was in Union. I was an ardent fan of my village rugby league team the Mu’a Saints but never got to play the game until I was 15 years old.
I still remember the first time I played my first Rugby League game for the Mu’a Saints, after only playing Rugby Union. I fell in love with the physicality, the innovations in the kicking game, versatile attacking, and the taxing nature of playing defense. I will never forget the feeling of having to defend 2 full sets in a row, three in a row was almost unbearable.
Rugby League for many became the other code of rugby that very few followed. Calling it a “meat head’s” game. Obviously, these people were unaware that Rugby League was always ahead of Union in creativity in the kicking game, defensive schemes, and attacking patterns, video referee etc. Eventually, Rugby Union would catch on to what League was doing and adopt those innovations into their game.
Usually, only a handful of my friends would follow the Mate Ma’a Tonga Team during the RLWC. Noone was more ecstatic than me when the MMT team were so successful and saw the tremendous support the team received. The MMT team also answered the age-old debate and question, “What would happen if Pacific Island Nations were able to field their national teams with the top Pacific Island Players from around the world?”
The undeniable answer is that Pacific Island teams will:
- Become Tier 1 International teams
- Traditional Tier 1 teams (Australia, NZ, England etc) would be significantly weaker teams.
- Sell tickets
- Make the international game more competitive and relevant.
As usual, the Rugby League is leading in the innovative approach to the qualification rules allowing the international game to engage the best players to play at the highest level. If history holds true Rugby Union will be 4 – 5 years behind before any chance of improvement in this area for Rugby Union.
Now we anxiously await a highly anticipated match between the MMT and the World Champions Australia Kangaroos late 2018.