By Susana Suisuiki of RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission.
The captain of Mate Ma’a Tonga’s Women’s rugby league team Lavinia Tauhalaliku admits she was left ‘overwhelmed’ when told she would be skipper.
The coach of the Tongan women’s team Milton Dymock told Tauhalaliku the news during the community event for the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga held on Wednesday in Otahuhu, Auckland.
Lavinia Tauhalaliku Photo: RNZ/Susana Suisuiki
Mate Ma’a Tonga face the Kiwis at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday as a curtainraiser for the men’s match between the same sides.
Tauhalaliku said being selected as captain left her ‘speechless’.
“We were up on the stage and having fun and when we came out, the coach pulled me to the side and he was like ‘you’re the captain’,” she said.
“I didn’t know what to say, I was so overwhelmed, because this is my first time being a captain of a team – any team, so I’ve just got to stand up and be a good role model for the girls and for the Tongan people.”
The proud Tongan said she started playing rugby league four years ago for Mangere East Hawkins in Auckand after being encouraged by her best friend’s mother.
“She saw something in me, but I didn’t see it in myself. Once I started playing I just kept playing. I’m so thankful for my best friend’s mum for showing me that pathway.”
Highlights of Tauhalaliku’s rugby league career includes being drafted into a Kiwi Ferns development camp at the start of 2020, before starring for Auckland Vulcans in the NZRL National Women’s Championship.
Mate Ma’a Tonga’s Women’s rugby league team Photo: RNZ/Susana Suisuiki
She made an impressive Test debut at fullback in the Kiwi Ferns’ late-2020 win over Fetu Samoa leaving a slew of defenders in her wake while making a string of powerful kick-returns and hit-ups in the 28-8 win.
However, Tauhalaliku said representing Tonga and seeing the Tongan community demonstrate ‘loto mafana’ or support towards the MMT Men and Womens team is empowering.
“Seeing them just put more power in me,” she said.
“It just encouraged me so when I go out in the weekend, I’m gonna play for them especially the man above – God.”
“When you step out on the field, all the crowds and the red flags, you’re ‘loto mafana’, you’re already strong just from that – you’re ready to go.”