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Rugby League drives 2020 Pacific Series – but culture the point of difference

The fifth edition of the Rugby League Pacific Series, held in mid-November 2020, was the biggest yet, with rugby league driving the series, but a celebration of Pasifika culture adding the point of difference.

Staged at Hoon Hay Park for the fifth time since its inception in 2016, the Pacific Series has gained momentum and established itself as a key event on New Zealand Rugby League’s calendar.

The Pacific Series’ primary focus is to bring communities together, to build connections, celebrate culture, and provide opportunities for people to strengthen their self-worth, and improve their health and wellbeing.

South Island Pasifika & Sports Association Chairman Iosua Tauti, one of the driving forces behind the Series, says the Series is a ‘showcase of culture’, with whānau at its heart.  Many of the rugby league matches played, involved generations of Pasifika families.

“Culture and family are the driving causes for us. Sport is a vehicle for bringing families together, and when you have so many families representing different cultures, the game takes on a whole new meaning,” he says.

“There is a higher level of engagement, and it turns into more than just a game. These players are representing their parents, grandparents, and generations of whānau who came to New Zealand to seek a better life for their family.”

“It brings our nations together – we come together as our Samoan team, or as our PNG team, our Cook Islands team, our Fiji team, and it brings families in to come and be a part of not only the Series but the wider community as well,” Iosua says.

The Association has been actively promoting the game and its wellbeing benefits for a decade.

Iosua says that the series has helped grow leadership from within its community and grow capacity.

“We have grown so much. We have people from all of our different cultures taking part in the Pacific Series now – one of our whānau is half-Māori and half-Samoan, with a Tongan partner. The couple and their children all took part in the Pacific Series, and they said the best part was the opportunity to represent all of these amazing cultures.”

One area which is gaining momentum is the girls' youth age-group competition - played alongside the men’s, women’s, and boys junior grades – which is great news, not just for the Pacific series, but also for Canterbury Rugby League.

The event also has a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing, collaborating with organisations such as Healthy Families Christchurch Ōtautahi, as well as raising the profile of Smokefree Aotearoa in 2025. 

“Mental health and wellbeing concerns do exist in our community. There is a high level of suicide, as well, as the need to address healthy eating and making healthy choices. The Pacific Series is the perfect platform to bring Pasifika families together to put a focus on these issues and promote community services and health care providers.”

Rātā Foundation supports the South Island Pasifika & Sports Association under its Participate funding focus area. 

Rātā Chief Executive Leighton Evans says it is great to see this event bringing cultures together in a way where they can all participate and learn from each other.

“Not only does the Pacific Series drive the improvement of health and wellbeing outcomes for people through participation, but it’s also enabling the community to learn about Pasifika culture and tradition and promote diversity at the same time,” he says.

Iosua says he hopes the Series will continue to grow each year – they now have seventy teams participating, a huge jump from the original sixteen in 2016.

“We want to keep developing new ways to celebrate our culture and get community buy-in from other organisations to provide support and education for our families who might need a bit of help.”

For more information on our Funding Focus areas visit