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Northcote Junior Rugby Club team to tour Tonga in October.

Photo/supplied

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'It's more than sport': Junior ruggers to continue club tradition on first Pacific tour

When whispers of plans to assemble a team to tour Tonga began to circle through the Northcote Rugby Club in Auckland, they were welcomed by many.

A group of Year 8s at Northcote Junior Rugby Club in Tāmaki Makaurau are gearing up for their annual tour - this time to the Friendly Islands of the Pacific - Tonga.

Last year the team, comprising Junior 1-8 players, visited Queenstown.

Parents Catherine Vaka-Nau and Frazer Mataitonga are on the fundraising committee and say it's going to be a long road of raising funds for the club's families to send their children from Auckland to Nuku'alofa in October.

Mataitonga told PMN Tonga's John Pulu the tour is a way to farewell and thank the boys for coming through the grades.

Northcote rugby has been around since 1920 and J8 Rippa is the club's first year for its youngest players. Rugby ClubIt’s the non-contact version of rugby, designed to introduce new players to the game without contact, "so they can learn the fundamental rugby skills of catching, passing, running, and scoring tries".

Mataitonga says usually, the club tours Australia but recently, they have been visiting the South Island.

This year, he says, the committee's "quite creative".

"They wanted to do something different and try out touring Tonga."

Vaka-Nau says there are three Tongans in the team, including her son.

"It's a good way of introducing their culture as well to the kids. They have been playing together since they were five years old. Everyone's looking forward to it.

"When the committee decided to do Tonga, I think it's because there was some history with organisations, and that goes back to Frazer as well, that they started looking into it last year.

"But now that we both have kids in the team, I think, you know, the committee was happy and was willing to push that trip to Tonga to go ahead this year.

"I think that will be for everybody, that will be their first time to Tonga, apart from some kids, obviously, but yeah, everybody's looking forward to it.

"I think the most important thing is that our kids are looking forward to it, and then our kids get to show everybody else where they're from."

Northcote Juniors of 2019. Photo/supplied

The tour will be heading to Tonga, 2-7 October 2024, with games against local school teams. The Tour will also learn about the Tongan culture, religion, and hospitality and experience a fun day with peers their age at schools in Tonga.

In Tonga, the team will hold training programmes, and Mataitonga says it's going to be special.

He thanked club chair Ian and Marcel and the people making things happen behind the scenes.

"It's been a good crew. Paul has had to deal with all the finances and coordinating everything. And others like Cat herself, Kate, Alex, Julia, Chanel, Becky, Mark, Sam, and all the parents as well who have always pitched in.

"It's quite amazing seeing all these parents putting up their free time for their kids so that they can enjoy this tour.

"And we're not just going to play rugby. We'll be doing stuff for the Tongan kids as well like donating rugby boots. We also planned a day to socialise with the kids in Tonga and they can exchange their rugby kits, boots, and yeah a bit of exchange of culture as well."

Such tours don't come cheap and a lot of work has gone into fundraising including wine and samosa sales, Saturday tuck shop at the club selling sausage and chips.

The club hosted family and friends to a celebration of culture last weekend.

"It's good to celebrate the past, present, and future Pacific players. So the culture night involves dances, island food, and auctions. So it's a lot of fundraising," Vaka-Nau says.

"If anyone is willing to help, check out our Northcote Rugby Club social media pages."

Mataitonga says the support in Tonga has been overwhelming from the players' relatives, Tonga Rugby Union, and the Tanoa Hotel.

For more information, email coterugbytour2024@gmail.com

Photo/supplied