The Aloha Center Ballroom exploded into a scene of people jumping and whooping as the Tonga National Rugby League Team scored their first goal. Fans and supporters gathered together and watched the Rugby League match between Mate Ma’a Tonga and the Australian Kangaroos on Oct. 19. Later a lone fan of the Australian team shouted for joy and waved the country’s flag as the Kangaroos made a goal against Mate Ma’a.
Prior to the start of the game, the Ballroom was filled with people wearing red colored hats, Aloha shirts, lavalavas and even face paint. Enthusiastic chatter filled the air of the Ballroom in anticipation for the game. On the screen, hundreds of Tongan flags waved alongside banners saying “Horsepower” or “Unleash the Horse within You”.
Silence followed when New Zealand celebrity, General Fiyah, sang the Tonga National Anthem. Tears streamed down the faces of the players representing Tonga. Fans of Tonga excitedly cheered with whistles and shouts of delight as the Tonga National Anthem came to a close.
Minutes after Fiyah sang, Tonga performed the Haka on the field in their rugby uniforms, staring down the opposite team. Cheers from the crowds at the game and in the Ballroom followed. Fans chanted in Tongan as the game started. Australia was the first to score five minutes into the game.
The Tonga Club organized the event so students and community members could have access and enjoy the game. Vice President of the Tonga Club Peni Kioa, a sophomore from Tonga majoring in biochemistry said, “This is Tonga’s first time playing against the Aussies. This is major boost in morale for the country. This game is important because many players on the Tonga team have left behind their families and other opportunities to represent the little islands of Tonga.”
According to Kioa, the Tonga Club’s goal for hosting the event was to inspire students to learn about sacrifice the players are making.
The game lasted 80 minutes with Australia winning 34 points and Tonga scoring 16.
After the game ended, one of the few supporters of Australia, Mahonri Eteru, a freshman business major from Australia said, “I have never felt so patriotic.” During the game, he wore the Australian team colors and waved his country’s flag against a crowd of Tonga fans. Eteru said, “The boys deserve the win tonight. Although, I must give respect to the Tongan boys for giving a good game.”
Visibly disappointed, Elijah Lemusuifeauali’i, a freshman art major from Australia said, “It was really bad. Tonga became tired at the second half. I felt the team fell under major pressure from the fans. They made too many little mistakes like dropping the ball or little team effort in defending the ball. It looked like Tonga had one guy doing lots of the work while the Aussies had more team effort and strategy.”
Despite seeing her team lose, Racheal Ohuafi, a sophomore and hospitality and tourism management major from Tonga said, “I loved the spirit of the Tongan people even if they lost. I felt there was bonding among the people and the team.” She jokingly said the team lost because of “too much horse power.”
“It was Australia’s game,” remarked Sita Pakalani, a sophomore biology major from Tonga. “Rugby started there, but at least Tonga made it to play against the Aussies.”