Mate Ma’a Tonga coach Kristian Woolf and star forward Felise Kaufusi have sent messages of support to the nation’s women’s Rugby League 9s team as they prepare to win gold at the Pacific Games.
Led by captain Ana Ngahe and featuring the likes of former Kiwi Ferns back Lavinia Tauhaliku, and Metanoia and Mele Fotu-Moala, whose sister Teuila was the 2017 international player of the year, Tonga will meet Cook Islands in the final.
Kaufusi, who is preparing for his second NRL season with the Dolphins after returning from Tonga’s historic tour to England, recorded a video message for the women’s team ahead of Tuesday’s matches against Samoa and Cook Islands.
A message from Woolf, the Dolphins assistant coach, was published on the Tonga Women's Rugby League Instagram account on Wednesday as the players prepared for the final.
After shutting out Samoa 18-0, Tonga beat Cook Islands 12-10 to remain as the only unbeaten team in the women’s tournament at Honiara National Stadium.
As the first Tonga women's team to compete at the Pacific Games, coach Monica Henry said her players had already created history.
“Win or lose for me, as the first head coach of the Tonga women’s Rugby League 9s team, I am very proud of my team, especially the local players,” Henry said.
A lot of them have never played league before, the majority have actually come from rugby so there is a big uprising in Tonga, where our union players are switching to league.
“A lot of them have never played league before - the majority have actually come from rugby - so there is a big uprising in Tonga, where our union players are switching to league.
“It is amazing just knowing that we have another pathway, especially for our Tongan youth, to uplift them and encourage them no matter what their background.”
The Cook Islands team are bolstered by Titans playmaker Chantay Kiria-Ratu and eight other members of the squad which last month travelled to Papua New Guinea for the Pacific Championships.
Cook Islands had earlier beat Fiji 18-10 to ensure a place in the final against Tonga and will be aiming to overcome their narrow loss to win the gold medal.
"I'll tell you now that was a nail-biter, but we will come back from it two times stronger," Cook Islands captain Toru Arakua said.
Meanwhile, the Fiji’s men’s side will be out to avenge their loss to Samoa on Monday when the two teams meet in the final on Wednesday.
Fiji won the gold medal in both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
In other matches played on Tuesday, Vanuatu created history when their women’s team triumphed 8-4 against Solomon Islands – the nation’s first win.
Vanuatu and Solomon Islands will meet again on Wednesday, while Fiji play Samoa in the bronze medal match.
In the men's bronze medal match, the Cook Islands will take on Tonga, who beat them in their final pool match on Tuesday.
Kick-off for the women's gold medal match is at 5.30pm AEST, while the men will battle it out from 7pm.
Pacific Games Rugby League 9s results (Day 2)
Fiji 28 v Solomon Islands 6
Samoa 22 v Cook Islands 6
Solomon Islands 4 v Samoa 22
Tonga 10 v Cook Islands 18
Fiji 10 v Cook Islands 18
Tonga 18 v Samoa 0
Vanuatu 8 v Solomon Islands 4
Cook Islands 10 v Tonga 12
Samoa 28 v Vanuatu 8
Solomon Islands 0 v Fiji 18