Pacific | Rugby

Pay cuts, leave without pay and time away from family - all in the name of rugby

The sacrifices made by the Penina Pasifika rugby team to help move Pacific women’s rugby into a professional era.


The Penina Pasifika season is short but their long-term effect on women’s rugby in the Pacific may be critical in years to come.

Penina Pasifika is an all-women rugby team from across the globe, women who make themselves available for the Tonga and Samoa international sides.

Season one is about to finish for them as they’ve been playing in the pre-season tournament in the Super Rugby Australian Women’s competition.

Samoan Jacqui Aiono (Fasito’outa / Falelima) who left her daughter in Aotearoa for their three-game series, has made the sacrifice to help improve her rugby skills, so she can pass them on to local girls in Samoa.

“The technical side of being a forward, with set pieces, especially like lineouts and scrums has been real cool because, as Pacific Islanders, we’re basically taught to muscle up.”

“But being in this space is technical as, and it’s kind of cool to get that experience.”

The Australian government partnered with Rugby Australia, Oceania Rugby, and World Rugby who kickstarted the kaupapa.

This historic team comes off the back of the Fiji Drua women’s team becoming regular members of the competition and the start of the first women’s club rugby competition in Tonga.

Māori/Tongan, Shonny To’a (Ngāpuhi) has had to take leave without pay from her fulltime job for four weeks to take part in this first-time team.

But say’s she’s happy to be paid by the organisation.

“Our financial gifts aren’t there as much as at work but some are better than none, so I’m still grateful and appreciative of the money that we do get.”

“It’s just been hard to find the funds to still pay rent, power, and all those bills.”

The players have found mutual connections through lotu (prayer) and cultural values, which sped up their gelling together as a team. Even so, they had only five days to prepare before their first match.

With over 50% of players in women’s rugby in Aotearoa being Māori and Pasifika, it seems fair to players who apply their trade in Super Rugby Aupiki that there is a team like this.

Chiefs Manawa captain Kennedy Simon (Tainui), who is also Niuean, says it’s amazing because it gets them seen in front of more eyes.

“It broadcasts their talents to scouts and opportunities. I’ve got a real connection to the Pasifika, my fiance is Tongan.

“So that’s awesome.”

It is yet to be decided whether they will take part in the Super Rugby Women’s competition in Australia but Hurricanes Poua captain Jackie Patea-Fereti (Samoan) hopes there’s more to come.

“For me as a Pacific Islander, I love seeing my people strive.”

“We’ve got a large pool of talented Pacific Island female players that don’t get a chance at Super (Rugby) level, so it’s awesome to see.”

They lost their first game to the Queensland Reds and their second to ACT Brumbies and they’ll play their final game on Saturday against the New South Wales Waratahs.