Pacific Netball Series: Tongan Tala secure ‘four-peat’ after overpowering Fiji for title

Photo: Netball Australia

Tonga Tala’s head coach Jaqua Pori-Makea-Simpson predicted her team would be competitive before the Pacific Netball Series 2024 rolled off in Brisbane on 10 June. 

And a weekend later, the young side named to defend the title had beaten all of their opponents, bar Namibia in pool play, to claim their fourth Pacific Netball Series title, keeping their record intact. 

No other Pacific team has won the title since the series’ inception in 2022. 

Tonga has been dominant since day one, two years ago. 

On Saturday night, they overpowered Fiji 72-58 in the final to retain their title. 

On the way to the final victory, the Tongan Tala claimed wins over the Australian First Nations 62-50 on day one, went down 54-51 to Namibia in game two, sprung back to beat Samoa 70-55 on day three, pipped Fiji 64-63 in game four and accounted for Singapore with a 63-57 win in game five. 

The results saw them through to the final, where they were to line up against Fiji for the fourth time since 2022. 

Fiji had a tougher run to the final, dropping two games along the way. 

The Fiji Pearls defeated Singapore 67-52, Samoa 64-55 and Namibia 66-57. 

But they lost to Tonga 63-64 and to the First Nations 61-48. 

Luckily for the Fijians, the First Nations team were not eligible to play for the finals as they were a local invitational side and not a fully fledged national team, as the Australian side had topped the competition’s points table after the fifth round of matches. 

The Tongan Tala netball team included eight under-21 players. 

Of the eight, four were making their debut at the event. 

The players have been part of the Tongan under-21 team preparing for the World Youth Cup qualifiers in September. 

Tonga Netball president Salote Sisifa said they celebrated the win by thanking God, for giving them the divine strength to defend their title successfully. 

“Malo Sisu (thank you Jesus) for the four-peat,” she said. 

“We came to defend our title and that we did. We will not tire to give back the Glory Lord. 

“We prayed for your help and guidance this past two weeks camp and competition and that you’ve done for us, this trophy won and it’s glory we give back to you. Thank you Jesus for the talent.”

The Tala players, who were on strict diet before the tournament, let the strings off and celebrated with pizzas and Kentukcy Fried Chicken (KFC) after the win. 

Netball Fiji said in a short statement on their social media page that the team had given it their best shot. 

“Our Fiji Pearls gave their all, but it wasn’t quite enough to get the win,” Netball Fiji said. 

“Congratulations to Tonga Tala for clinching the 2024 Pacific Netball Series Title and a big Vinaka vakalevu (thank you) to our ladies for their effort throughout the week.”

Pori-Makea-Simpson kept a close watch on her Tala players throughout the event and rotated them in every game, giving everyone game time. 

Her Fijian counterpart Unaisi Rokoura also did the same for her side, as both tried to map out a winning run for the top prize. 

In the final the Pearls started well to lead 16-14 after the first quarter. 

But Tonga came back hard to lead 33-31 at the half. 

The Tala then scored 20-14 in the third quarter and 19-13 in the final quarter of play to close the game off. 

Another top showing from 22-year-old goal shooter Uneeq Palavi, scoring 63 points from 66 attempts at goal, saw her walk off with another ‘Player of the Series’ title. 

Tala defender Valu Toutaiolepo was named Grand Final Most Valuable Player. 

The under-21 players in the Tala team will now work with their head coach and the rest of the squad to prepare for the World Youth Netball tournament. 

In other matches on Saturday, Singapore edged First Nations Black Swans 52-50 and Namibia defeated Samoa 54-36