Penina pioneers prove ‘Pacific women are worth investing in’

Photo: Penina Pasifika Rugby/Facebook

Just three matches into their existence, Penina Pasifika is fast becoming one of rugby’s great success stories. 

Supported by the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports programme, Penina Pasifika has sprouted from the seed of an idea into full bloom. 

Little was known about the side comprised of amateur players from Tonga and Samoa when they travelled to Ballymore last month for the first of three Super Rugby Women’s trial fixtures. 

That quickly changed when Penina stunned the Queensland Reds at Ballymore to lead 7-5 with just five minutes to play, eventually falling in a 17-7 thriller against last year’s grand finalists. 

Fast forward two weeks and the “Pearls” have continued to impress, pushing ACT Brumbies all the way in a 32-19 classic before giving it their all in a 49-7 loss to perennial Super Rugby Women’s favourites, NSW Waratahs. 

It’s an incredible journey for players like Ana Ngahe, who have barely spent time on a rugby pitch, let alone faced a side littered with Wallaroos. 

 “I’ve only been playing for a year and four months now and being able to play with experts and pro players as a team, I think it was an awesome experience getting to learn so much from them,” Ngahe told ABC Pacific. 

“I think this will not only impact our local league but as we go back to our islands, we can showcase to the other girls what we learned here and I think culturally that helps us connect on a stronger bond.” 

Ngahe and her teammates are already champions on the field. Now, they have the opportunity to drive change off it. 

 “It really means a lot – I think it’s a pathway for the young girls back home. Many are dropouts from school but I think they have the potential to become better, especially in rugby, but they need investment and support,” Ngahe said. 

“I think we need to get our voice out that island and Pasifika women are worth investing in.” 

Teammate Peleoaiga Loto added: “There’s something special being the pioneers – we are creating the platform for the girls that are coming and find their voice and think that if other people can do it, we can do it as well.” 

The experience has been a moving one for Penina Pasifika captain Nina Foaese, who has sacrificed it all to travel with the fledgling side. 

“I’ve got three kids and a full-time job back home so it’s pretty hard to juggle all that. It’s finding the balance and having the village back home to support me,” Foaese told the Nesian Footy podcast. 

“My daughter’s on the same journey and she watches us and as well as me at club and she’s striving for the same thing. I just put all my faith in God and that he helps me through it. My family is my go to – they always support me and they push me to live out my dreams.” 

The Australian Government and PacificAus Sport will continue to support Penina Pasifika’s inclusion in future Super Rugby Women’s trial fixtures along with other regional projects following last month’s announcement of a $14.2 million fund tailored towards uplifting Pacific rugby.