Pacific Elite Conference
2012 Junior Elite Pacific Conference
Wednesday July 4 , 2012
The blood in their veins comes from as far afield as Samoa and the Cook Islands, the heritage they proudly display ranges from Fijian to Tongan, to Maori and more, and last Wednesday over thirty Pacific juniors met at Penrith’s CUA Stadium for the first Pacific Junior Elite Conference.
The inaugural event, organised by the NSWRL Academy in partnership with the NRL, brought together juniors with Pacific Islander heritage from the Sydney clubs for a day aimed at strengthening the players’ connection to their culture and providing support for up-and-coming Pacific juniors.
Players took part in seminars on Pacific history and culture, education, workplace training, player management, and support programs offered by the NRL, with former stars Nigel Vagana, Andrew Ryan, Frank Puletua, NSWRL Multicultural Officer Steve Meredith, and current Panthers first grader Etu Uaisele all speaking on a variety of issues relevant to Pacific players and juniors.
With the reality being that only 10% of Harold Matthews’ (under 16’s) players become first graders, the need for potential career paths outside of playing rugby league was highlighted by Velu Nuumalii’s involvement in the day.
As a promising junior with the Panthers, Nuumalii had his spinal cord severed in an SG Ball semi-final, and was initially told he would never walk again. Now he is not only walking again, but is hard at work with the Men of League charity, encouraging young players to look beyond the short term and maintain their career options outside of playing professionally.
NRL Player Education and Welfare Manager and former Kiwi star Nigel Vagana also stressed the importance of a balance between pursuing an NRL career and having alternative interests and a ‘Plan B’ should players not make the grade.
“One thing we’re really drilling into the boys is the life balance and the fact that it’s all the things you do off the field that determines whether you’re successful or not”, said Vagana.
“This messageis not specific to Pacific players in the competition, but it’s more for any young player coming through. With the stuff we’re doing today, it’s about encouraging identity and encouraging a system around them that will support them if they need it.”
With almost 30 per cent of NRL players of Pacific heritage, and a further 36 per cent playing in the Toyota National Youth Competition, the Pacific Junior Elite Conference is the latest initiative aimed at increasing cultural awareness in the game.
The idea for the Conference, which is aimed at Pacific juniors aged between fifteen and eighteen, has been on the agenda for the NRL and senior Pacific players for some time, and was further developed at this year’s NRL Pacific Leadership Camp, where the likes of Lote Tuqiri, Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings and Adam Blair met with fifty NRL players to establish leadership roles within the rugby league community.
“One of the boys from the camp – Michael Jennings – a guy who has had his ups and downs and still does to a degree, we spoke about a year ago now… and fifteen months later here we are,” said Vagana.
“Jenko [Jennings] asked me ‘How can we help the younger players coming through?’”
“Because he saw plenty friends and players growing up that didn't make it through the system mostly attributed to cultural barriers. He was also motivated by his younger brothers who are in the system now and wanted to set up a support system in the game to help them with specific cultural issues.”
“This is something that has been developed over a long time and it’s the players who are driving it because at the end of the day they are the ones who know what it’s like coming through the system.”
And coming through that system are Parramatta juniors Frazer Masinamua, 18, and Pauli Pauli, 17, both of whom have Samoan heritage and represented NSW Under 18’s this year.
“I’ve learnt [today] that you’ve got to set realistic goals, because if you get injured you need to fall back on something you can enjoy…and for me that’s carpentry", said Masinamua, a front rower in the Eels Toyota Cup side.
“Coming from Velu [Nuumalii], who’s been there and done that and unfortunately he got injured, he said to set realistic goals and don’t get too far ahead of yourself, and it just shows you what can happen.”
For Eels Teammate Pauli, who is one of ten siblings, his family and Samoan heritage provide motivation as he makes his way through the junior ranks.
“I look up to my grandad, and I carry his name. He’s Pauli too and he’s a chief in Samoa, and my parents gave me that name so it can live on, so if I could take his name to the NRL it would make my grandad very proud,” said the Parramatta youngster.
“But there’s more important things to life than football…and my plan B is to do an apprenticeship in mechanics. If I have the chance to do that at some point to help my family, that’d be great too.”