Historic Oceania Rugby Women’s Combine helped showcase “hidden gems”
The first ever Women’s Combine took place last week as 20 of the best female players from the Pacific Islands congregated on Australia’s Gold Coast.
More than a third of the players who took part in the inaugural Oceania Rugby Women’s Combine earlier this year have been selected to showcase their talents in Rugby Australia’s Super W 2023.
In September, 20 of the best female players from Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga were exposed to world-class coaching on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Participants had been selected based on their performances at the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship 2022 with the hope that some would graduate to compete in next year’s Super W tournament.
It has since been confirmed that the Australian government, through PacificAus Sports, will provide scholarships to enable six of those players to take up initial one-season contracts with Super W teams.
Tongans Shonte To’a and Tilila Hifo have been signed by the ACT Brumbies, while Samoan internationals Easter Savelio and Fa’alua Ioe Tugaga will join the Melbourne Rebels and their compatriots Penina Tuilaepa and Angelica Uila are heading to the Western Force.
Additionally to those scholarships, the Western Force have signed a third combine participant, Samoan international Saelua Leaula for the 2023 season.
Meanwhile, former Manusina player and current Lakapi Samoa Women’s Academy Manager, Filoi Eneliko has been offered a short-term coaching placement with the Brumbies.
Leaula, who has won seven test caps for Manusina, discovered she had been offered a place on the Western Force squad via a video message from the club’s Female High Performance Pathways Manager, Claudia Bell and General Manager of Rugby, Matt Hodgson.
“Thank you for the opportunity, I feel very happy,” Leaula said after watching Bell and Hodgson convey the team’s offer. “I am extremely blessed.
“I'm so lost for words with how I’m feeling right now. This is the first time I’ve ever been surprised like this.
“This surprising news is not something I take lightly, because it's really difficult to get a spot on one of these teams.
“But despite the challenges, I’m happy and excited to have been blessed with this opportunity.”
Leaula is determined to make the most of her season in Perth and to return to Samoa following Super W 2023 as a better player.
“As I now prepare to join the team that has chosen me, there's a lot that I need to mentally prepare myself for, so I am able to bring back as much knowledge and skills that I’ll gain from being with the Western Force,” she added.
“I have no words. I just feel really happy because of this opportunity that's been given to me.
“I know there are so many girls out there who also really want this chance, so I’m overjoyed by this surprise video announcement today.
“I want to give my thanks to Oceania Rugby for the opportunity to be a part of the Women’s Combine, ultimately giving me this placement.
“I want to thank the Western Force for choosing me to be a part of their 2023 squad.”
Lakapi Samoa CEO Faleomavaega Vincent Fepuleai hopes the sight of Pacific Island women competing in Super W can help to inspire the next generation of female players.
“It opens up opportunities for local players and local coaches to advance themselves,” he said.
“This is going to be really good for us because it’s an opportunity that a lot of local girls are going to aspire to be part of.”
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont was with Leaula when she received her offer from Perth and he added: “I think it’s a great initiative between World Rugby, Oceania Rugby and the Australian government to enable far more talent to come out of the islands and to be recognised.”