A vocal crowd of rugby league fans has given the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga teams a warm welcome at a community event in Otahuhu ahead of their highly anticipated match this weekend.
A vocal crowd of rugby league fans give the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga teams a warm welcome Photo: RNZ Pacific/Susana Suisuiki
Huge crowds gathered at the community event at the Otahuhu Rovers Rugby League Stadium to watch the Men and Women’s Kiwis and Tonga teams take the stage ahead of their test games on Saturday.
Both the men’s and women’s teams made a joint public appearance before the crowds.
The passionate crowds predominately made up of Tongan fans, sang church hymns and waved flags.
Mate Ma’a Tonga Captain Sio Siua Taukeiaho said the event is a welcome relief for many Tongans traumatised by January’s volcanic eruption that devastated Tonga.
Mate Ma’a Tonga Captain Sio Siua Taukeiaho Photo: PHOTOSPORT
He said the team wants to lift the spirits of the Kingdom.
“The least we could do is come together as a team and play some good footy, show them how important they are to us by playing good footy representing our families, our people back in Tonga.
It means a lot, especially for the people back home in Tonga, they look up to our players…Like I said, hopefully, we get the win because that win would be for them,” he said.
Mate Ma’a Tonga team arrive in Otahuhu Photo: RNZ Pacific/Susana Suisuiki
And assistant coach and former captain Sika Manu said the team has been well received.
“It’s awesome, we always get support from our Tongan people and it’s good to come out here to see the mum and kids here today. We appreciate it.”
Mate Ma’a Tonga centre Moses Pangai thanked the crowds saying “it’s been two years since we’ve seen you all and I know the boys are excited to go out on Saturday and beat these Kiwis…so Malo, ‘Ofa Atu.”
Mate Ma’a Tonga will field nine debutants for this Saturday’s game.
Mate Ma’a Tonga fans
The Tongan community who attended the event for the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga rugby league team in Otahuhu say their passion and pride are like no other.
Family and friends come out to support Mate Ma’a Tonga in Auckland Photo: RNZ Pacific/Susana Suisuiki
MMT fan Julius Vea said no other country matches Tonga’s passion for their sports teams.
“Just the passion and pride eh, I don’t think any other country matches our pride when it comes to our country – you see every single Tongan out here, that’s just the pride in us, that’s the Tongan in us.”
Saturday’s game will be significant for Mele Havea as her daughter Elenoa Havea will make her debut for Tonga.
Mele’s father, Sione Fakalata explains that he pushed Elenoa to play rugby league when she was 13 and he’s proud of her.
“MTT supporters stand out from other sports fans because they demonstrate ‘loto mafana’,” he said.
Tongan community come out to support Mate Ma’a Tonga in Otahuhu Photo: RNZ Pacific/Susana Suisuiki