Background Buzz – tribute to all the Pasifika players in State of Origin – 30 May 2023

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Okay sports fans, on “Background Buzz” today before ORIGIN I in Adelaide tomorrow night, I want to pay tribute to all the Pasifika players in State of Origin thanks to a great article by ABC Pacific islands sports reporter, Ali Almond.

Okay sports fans, on “Background Buzz” today before ORIGIN I in Adelaide tomorrow night, I want to pay tribute to all the Pasifika players in State of Origin thanks to a great article by ABC Pacific islands sports reporter, Ali Almond.

The 2001 Maroons side was packed with so many legends of the game it still reads like a fantasy team — Darren Lockyer, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Paul Green, Allan Langer, Shane Webcke and Gorden Tallis, as well as Coach Wayne Bennett.

This was the first year Petero Civoniceva pulled on a Maroons jersey and, along with fellow Fijian Tuqiri and South Seas Islander Sailor, became a sensation on the field and trailblazers for Pasifika representation in State of Origin.

Today Civoniceva is humbled by the increase of Pasifika heritage players in rugby league’s toughest arena, “The representation was very small back in the early 2000s, but it’s a wonderful thing to see the boost as time has gone on. It’s something we should all be proud of,” he said.

Civoniceva recalls talking to his mum and dad about choosing between Fiji and Australia following his Origin debut when he was also selected to play for Australia:

“My parents said even if I’m playing Origin, or representing Australia, I’m still flying the Fiji flag.” 

Just over two decades since the likes of Civoniceva, Tuqiri and Sailor led the way, the number of Pasifika players in Origin has exploded.

The players selected this year, along with legacy players for New South Wales and Queensland, brings the number of Pasifika heritage representatives to 54, proving more than one cultural identity can be included and celebrated at the most elite level of rugby league.

State of Origin eligibility is not an open-shop; a player’s Origin status was only determined by “where their first senior game was played after the age of 16”.

In 2012 things were tightened — outside a few caveats (like if a players’ parent played Origin) eligibility is determined by if the player lived in New South Wales or Queensland “prior to the age of thirteen”.

Also, a player cannot represent a ‘tier-one’ country internationally such as England or New Zealand and play for New South Wales or Queensland.

Following success on the world stage there have been murmurs about Tonga and more recently Samoa, advancing to tier-one status, but currently there are no tier-one Pacific Island nations.

Which means, players like New South Wales trio Junior Paulo, Brian To’o and Jarome Luai and Queenslanders such as Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow can play Origin football for their state and represent their heritage with Samoa in international play.

The current state of play has not been without criticism, with some accusing Pasifika players of lacking the emotional connection to the jersey that’s required to succeed in State of Origin football.

It’s an idea Luai, who will start for the Blues on Wednesday night, after leading Samoa to a World Cup final berth against Australia last year, totally disagrees with.

“It’s hard to judge someone’s passion,” Luai said.

“Any jersey I put on means a lot. To have my last name on a jersey, that’s what means the most to me. I don’t know how you can judge that.”

Queensland second rower and Tongan International David Fifita has been recalled to the Maroons squad this season after missing selection last year and says he is proud of his three identities as a Torres Strait Islander, a Tongan and a Queenslander.

“It means a lot to me to represent Tonga at the World Cup which represents my father, my uncles, aunties and all my cousins and all the Tongans out there that look up to me,” Fifita said.

“At the same time, for myself now, I’m so grateful to represent Queensland. I feel so fortunate.”

Fifita was born and raised in Brisbane and through his maternal grandmother and mother, he learned to speak their native Torres Strait Islander language.

“I know how to speak full language in my TI side … not many people know that,” he said.

Fifita is not alone with this ability in the Queensland camp. Centre Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow who is Torres Strait Islander and Samoan heritage is also versed in his Indigenous dialect.

“Me and Hammo (Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow) know how to speak our TI language, we love to talk island to each other.”

This year, Tevita Pangai Jnr will become the 54th player of Pasifika heritage to play Origin football since 1980, when Mal Meninga was the first.

For the record, 30 players of Pacific Island heritage have played for Queensland including twelve Samoans, seven Tongans, three from Papua New Guinea, three Cook Islanders, three ni Vanuatu and two Fijians.

And for New South Wales: 23 Pasifika players with thirteen Tongans, five Fijians, four Samoans and one Cook Islander.

You can see a complete list of all these great players in the text below. 

Queensland: Petero Civoniceva (Fiji), Xavier Coates (Papua New Guinea), Neville Costigan (Papua New Guinea), Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Samoa), Dave Fifita (Tonga), Israel Folau (Tonga), Valentine Holmes (Cook Islands), Karmichael Hunt (Cook Islands/Samoa), Antonio Kaufusi (Tonga), Felise Kaufusi (Tonga), Adrian Lam (Papua New Guinea), Brenko Lee (Tonga), Dunamis Lui (Samoa), Josh McGuire (Samoa), Mal Meninga (South Sea Islander), Anthony Milford (Samoa), Francis Molo (Samoa), Dylan Napa (Cook Islands), Jeremiah Nanai (Samoa), Joe Ofahengaue (Tonga), Justin O’Neill (Vanuatu), Josh Papalii (Samoa), Wendell Sailor (South Sea Islander/Solomon Islands), Phillip Sami (Samoa), Jaydn Su’A (Samoa), Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Samoa), Murray Taulagi (Samoa), Ben Te’o (Samoa), Lote Tuqiri (Fiji), Willie Tonga (Tonga)

New South Wales: Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Fiji), Jim Dymock (Tonga), Andrew Fifita (Tonga), Tyson Frizell  (Tonga), Payne Haas (Samoa), Jarryd Hayne (Fiji), John Hopoate (Tonga), Will Hopoate (Tonga), Michael Jennings (Tonga), Tevita Pangai Junior (Tonga), Brent Kite (Tonga), Api Koroisau (Fiji), Jarome Luai (Samoa), Willie Mason (Tonga), Junior Paulo (Samoa), Tariq Sims (Fiji), Kotoni Staggs (Tonga), Siosifa Talakai (Tonga), James Tamou (Cook Islands), Brian To’o (Samoa), Anthony Tupou (Tonga), Daniel Tupou (Tonga), Akuila Uate (Fiji), Tony Williams (Tonga).

And that’s a wrap!

For TEIVOVOsports.com I’m Culden Kamea – Mahalo, vinaka and thank you. Please hit the subscribe button below if you would like to receive more Pasifika sports highlights on Breakfast Bites. And tank you all too mas for all your love and support.  

Mahalo, vina’a and tank you all too mass for all your love and support.

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