Over the next month hundreds of netballers from across Tonga will converge on the village of Nukunuku to showcase their talents in the annual Mo’onia Cup.
It’s a tournament started five years ago and run by former NSW Swifts co-captain and Australian Diamonds star Mo’onia Gerrard and attracts hundreds of netballers of all ages from villages right across the Pacific Island nation.
Held over three Saturdays until December 14, the tournament is hosted in Mo’onia’s `home’ village of Nukunuku located in the western part of Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga.
Teams compete in four grades – senior, under-18, mixed and the `Golden Girls’ or 35 years and older division. Gerrard – who is of Tongan heritage – attends the tournament every year in an effort to support the growth of the sport in the country and also to run her eye over the talent.
The number of players who compete in the Mo’onia Cup reflects the phenomenal growth netball has enjoyed in Tonga – especially over the past 12 months.
Tonga Netball Association community officer ’Uinita Tauhalaliku, a former national team player, said getting netball played by primary school pupils and in villages has been a major factor in boosting the numbers of girls and women involved.
“When I was at high school, netball was only played there. There was no netball in the community,” she said.
“So when I was at primary school I was looking forward to playing netball at my high school. But after high school, if people wanted to keep playing, there were no organised competitions for them.
“Every village has a primary school so kids can form clubs in their villages and play even after they finish high school.”
Tonga Netball offers organised competitions at least three times a year where villages or clubs within a village can play against others.
“We try and get teams to play as many games as they can. It’s all about getting them in and playing games,” ’Uinita said.
The Mo’onia Cup was initially organised entirely by Gerrard and her family that still live in Tonga. But Tonga Netball now has the capacity to assist with delivering the tournament by providing umpires, bench officials, equipment and other support.
Working closely with Netball Australia, through the Australian Government’s Pacific Sports Partnership program, has given Tonga Netball the resources to help to develop not just players, but coaches and umpires as well.
ANZ Championship matches are broadcast into Tonga which is helping young girls identify with the world’s best.
“Everybody in Tonga can see that netball is growing. Even people in rugby (union) are asking `what are you guys doing’ because of how much we are growing,” ’Uinita said.