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Samoan representatives Brian To'o and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in their respective Origin colours.



State of Origin: Pacific players in rugby league's battle of the giants

PMN News Sports Journalist Matt Manukuo highlights our heroes of Australia's 'war of the states' ahead of tonight's opener.

Matt Manukuo
Matt Manukuo
05 June 2024, 6:00am
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Game one of State of Origin kicks off tonight and it’s another event for footy fanatics to get pumped about.

After a successful stint with the Kiwis, coach Michael McGuire wears the New South Wales hat, leading the Blues out for the first time.

For Maroons' legend Billy Slater, it's his third Origin series as head coach of the Queensland state, and he has won every series in the role.

Tonight's opener at Accor Stadium in Sydney will feature 16 players of Pacific heritage across the 40-man squads.

Tongan Haumole Olakau'atu and Valentine Holmes, of the Cook Islands, have been named to play in tonight's opener at the Adelaide Oval. Photo/supplied

Each year, the number of Pacific players across both sides has increased.

Let’s take a look at both squads and which of our Pacific champions are featuring in the 2024 Ampol State of Origin Series.

Queensland Maroons: Valentine Holmes (Cook Islands), Hamiso Tabuia-Fidow (Torres-Strait Island, Samoa), Murray Taulagi (Samoa), Jaydn Su’a (Samoa), Jeremiah Nanai (Samoa), Moeaki Fotuaika (Tonga), Felise Kaufusi (Tonga), Ezra Mam (Torres-Strait Island).

New South Wales Blues: Brian To’o (Samoa), Stephen Crichton (Samoa), Joseph-Aukuso Suali’i (Samoa), Jarome Luai (Samoa), Payne Haas (Samoa), Haumole Olakau’atu (Tonga), Spencer Leniu (Samoa).

State of Origin Eligibility

With State of Origin being an Australian affair, the argument has been tossed up that players selected for both sides should have represented the Kangaroos at the international level.

In the past few years, we’ve seen some State of Origin representatives without international caps, stirring up the discussion on selection.

But, looking at the official eligibility rules for State of Origin, they read: If you were born in NSW or QLD, your eligibility to play for either state will depend on where you played the majority of your junior grade.

If you were not born in NSW or QLD, but resided in each state, before your 13th birthday, then you can represent your appropriate state.

The eligibility criteria were revamped in 2012, and there have been a few instances where two Pacific athletes were rejected.

Jason Taumalolo: Taumalolo moved to Queensland before he was 13, making him eligible to play for the Maroons. There was an opportunity to be selected in 2012 for the Sunshine State, but Taumalolo chose New Zealand. He debuted for the Kiwis in 2014 and played more than 10 games for the side. This meant he would stay ineligible to represent Queensland because he had featured in over 10 games for a tier 1 nation.

Ronaldo Mulitalo: Mulitalo moved from South Auckland to Ipswich, Brisbane, when he was 13. Despite playing his junior grades for Ōtara, Mulitalo was named in the 2021 Maroons' side but was ultimately ruled out due to ineligibility. Mulitalo said it was a dream of his to represent Queensland. He settled for the New Zealand Kiwis.

The official NRL State of Origin eligibility rules.

Pacific Players in State of Origin: A total of 57 players of Pacific heritage have featured in State of Origin.

New South Wales Queensland

Kevin Nagas (Solomon Islands) Mal Meninga (Vanuatu)

John Hopoate (Tonga) Adrian Lam (PNG)

Jim Dymock (Tonga) Gordon Tallia (Tonga)

Timana Tahu (Maori) Lote Tuqiri (Fiji)

Willie Mason (Tonga) Petero Civoniceva (Fiji)

Brent Kite (Tonga) Willie Tonga (Tonga)

Jarrod Hayne (Fiji) Karmichael Hunt (Cook Is./Samoa)

Anthony Tupou (Tonga) Antonio Kaufusi (Tonga)

Michael Jennings (Tonga) Israel Folau (Tonga)
Aquila Uate (Fiji) Ben Te’o (Samoa)

Will Hopoate (Tonga) Josh Papali’i (Samoa)

James Tamou (Maori) and FacebookMaguire (Samoa)

Tony Williams (Tonga) Dane Gagai (Maori)

Andrew Fifita (Tonga) Anthony Milford (Samoa)

Daniel Tupou (Tonga) Dylan Napa (Cook Is.)

Dylan Walker (Maori) Felise Kaufusi (Tonga)

Tyson Frizell (Tonga) Kalyn Ponga (Maori)

Payne Haas (Samoa) Joe Ofahengaue (Tonga)

Daniel Saifiti (Fiji) David Fifita (Tonga)

Junior Paulo (Samoa) Phillip Sami (Samoa)

Jerome Luai (Samoa) Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Samoa)

Brian To’o (Samoa) Jaydn Su’a (Samoa)

Api Koroisau (Fiji) Dynamos Lui (Samoa)

Stephen Crichton (Samoa) Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Samoa/Torres Strait)

Sifa Talakai (Tonga) Jeremiah Nanai (Samoa)

Jacob Saifiti (Fiji) Murray Taulagi (Samoa)
Tevita Pangai Jr (Tonga) Ezra Mam (Torre Strait Is.)

Stefano Utoikamanu (Samoa)

Keon Koloamatangi (Tonga)

Game on!

It’s another great example of our Pacific athletes represented across the board in the sport, playing at the highest level.

Reflecting on this list shows the plethora of talent, our Australian Pacific communities have in Queensland and New South Wales.

I grew up during the powerful era of the Queensland Maroons who won eight straight - and featured were legends like Israel Folau, Ben Te’o, and Josh Papali'i. Across the field, players like Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou, and Andrew Fifita were also storming the Maroons.

Tonight’s match will be an eventful one as we watch 17 of our Pacific athletes head out to feature in the “pinnacle of rugby league” State of Origin!

The Penrith boys from Samoa line up for NSW against Queensland's Samoan powerhouses, in what's expected to be another exciting game of Origin footy.

The game kicks off at 10.35pm (NZ time).