The Sol2023 Pacific Games Rugby League 9s competition promises speed, skill and history-making debutants when it kicks off at 3pm on Monday 20 November at Honiara’s National Stadium.
Likely medallists Papua New Guinea (PNG), who won silver in both the men’s and women’s competitions at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, are absent from Sol2023 due to failing to comply with the PNG Olympic Committee’s entry requirements. With the rugby league-mad nation not competing in Honiara, the door is wide open for a country that has never won a Pacific Games Rugby League 9s medal to reach the podium, especially in the women’s competition.
Women’s rugby league 9s
The women’s Pacific Games Rugby League 9s competition at Sol2023 will feature two teams making their first appearance at the event – Vanuatu and Tonga – who will face each other in their opening match on Monday afternoon.
Vanuatu will make their women’s international rugby league debut here at Sol2023, after ambitions to enter other global tournaments in recent years were disrupted by the pandemic. A prolonged preparation period will see Vanuatu proudly set foot on the international stage looking to make their mark.
Tonga women will also make their inaugural appearance at the Pacific Games Rugby League 9s (but have been playing 13-a-side test matches). Two thirds of Tonga’s squad are players based in the island nation, while their coach and the remainder of their players are based in New Zealand and Australia, some with 13-a-side international experience. The emergence of a largely Tonga-based national women’s team is a significant step forward in a country where the popular sport has been largely male-dominated.
The other teams in the women’s competition are 2019 gold medallists Fiji, 2019 bronze medallists Cook Islands, Samoa and Solomon Islands.
Samoa will have high expectations of reaching the podium after narrowly missing out in 2019, while Cook Islands’ experienced team will be hoping to improve on bronze with the inclusion of NRLW stars such as Gold Coast Titans halfback Chantay Kiria-Ratu. Solomon Islands will be looking to build on their women’s rugby league debut in 2019.
Men’s rugby league 9s
The withdrawal of PNG means there are only five teams in the men’s competition – 2019 gold medallists Fiji, 2019 bronze medallists Samoa, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
While Tonga and Samoa have established themselves as powerhouses on the 13-a-side international stage in recent years, their teams at Sol2023 feature players based predominantly in those countries, rather than well-known Australia-based NRL stars.
Fiji will be confident about retaining their gold medal, especially given the absence of PNG.
Tonga, who narrowly missed out on the podium four years ago but claimed bronze at the previous Pacific Games, will be hoping to claim a medal, while Samoa and Cook Islands will offer stiff competition.
Rugby League 9s begins at 3pm on Monday 20 November at the National Stadium with a women’s match between Cook Islands and Solomon Islands. It runs until Wednesday 22 November, with medal matches that afternoon from 5pm.
Tickets are $30 SBD and can be purchased from the Sol2023 ticket booth at the National Stadium or from Our Telekom in Point Cruz.
By Joanna Lester, Pacific Games News Service