While Tonga and New Zealand are in high spirits ahead of tomorrow’s clash at Mt Smart, some people who are regarded as pioneers of rugby league in Tonga have not been forgotten.
When the sport started in Tonga in 1980s and became popular in 1990s there was great concern about spinal cord injuries suffered by many players at the time.
The physical contact and direct clashing of the players and their opponents with what appeared to be a lack of professional training was blamed for these players’ injuries.
Aholova Fa’ase’e from Ha’asini but now residing in New Zealand was injured in Tonga in 1996 while playing rugby league. He is now on wheelchair as a result of his injury, but thankful he is still living.
Fa’ase’e said he had a spinal cord injury mid-way down the cervical spinal cord which was known as c4 and c5.
He told Kaniva News he was not airlifted to New Zealand or Australia for treatment, which was an option for him at the time because of Tonga Rugby League’s links to New Zealand and Australia’s rugby league authorities.
He said he was not airlifted based on the doctors’ advice, implying that he would not live much longer.
He said he remembered Dr Viliami Fukofuka, one of the pioneers who set up Rugby League in Tonga in 1980s. He said Dr Fukofuka and the rugby league committee were helpful and supported him while he was in hospital.
He said if the doctor saw him now he would not believe he was still alive.
“But today I am grateful I have lived for another 26 years since my injury”, Fa’ase’e said.
“I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I believe we can give everything a purpose on our own. That’s what I’ve tried to do.“
He also remembered some of the former rugby league players in Tonga who were injured like him, some of whom had died.
This included Viliami Tonga of Tofoa, playing for the Houma Tigers at the time, who later died of his spinal cord injury.
Tonga’s sister Fatai Tonga sent a photo of Viliami to Kaniva News this afternoon. She said every time the people celebrated the Mate Ma’a Tonga’s performance she remembered her brother Viliami.
Fa’ase’e said one of the injured who died of his spinal injuries was ‘Aisea Filiai.
Spinal cord injuries continue to be a problem around the world in both rugby codes.
In New South Wales earlier this year former NRL star Nathan became a quadraplegic while playing in a country game.
In 2016 former Ikale Tahi player Taione Vea decided to retire after he was injured during a game for Newcastle. He was briefly paralysed and decided the risk of being permanently disabled was too high to continue playing.
In 2014, Professor Peter Milburn from Griffith University in Brisbane said in any collision sport, injuries were relatively common and an inevitable part of the game. The risk of sustaining an injury in rugby league that required medical treatment was about 40 injuries per 1,000 playing hours.
Head and neck injuries were the most common
Professor Milburn quoted New Zealand Accident Compensation Commission records, which showed 41 moderate to fracture/dislocation injuries to the back and spine injuries in rugby league over a five-year period.
He said there was some evidence that lighter players were more likely to be injured. He suggested the NRL could consider grouping players by weight and size for competition, rather than age.
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