Meninga leads pledge for Vanuatu appeal

It's a heritage he holds close to his heart and Maroons and Kangaroos legend Mal Meninga has now called on the rugby league community to help rebuild the Vanuatu communities recently devastated by Cyclone Pam.

With the NRL UNICEF Appeal already underway, Queensland Rugby League will this weekend raise funds throughout their range of competitions from juniors right through to the Intrust Super Cup collecting donations across the state.

In order to raise awareness of the plight of people in Vanuatu, Meninga last week endeavoured to unveil the untold story of how South Sea Islanders came to Australia in the mid-1800s and his connection to Vanuatu, in particular Tanna Island.

Meninga: The untold story

NRL combines with UNICEF for Vanuatu appeal

"I'm a very proud Australian South Sea Islander. Tanna Island is where my dad's family come from, it was crushed and everything was knocked over," Meninga said.

"A lot of the villages have been flattened … it's one of the worst hit areas, so obviously there's a fair bit of sentiment there for me. That's where my ancestors come from and I dare say I still have some family there.

"Structures over there were just blown off the park. They're very resilient people, very self sufficient, they're rebuilding their homes now as we speak but it's fantastic that rugby league is getting behind it all and I'm hoping all the money that is raised will make a small difference in their lives at the moment."

The NRL, in partnership with UNICEF Australia, has already collected more than $65,000 donated by the rugby league community in addition to the $50,000 the NRL pledged to UNICEF's rapid response network, through which all members of the community can donate.

When the Category 5 cyclone hit on March 13 up to 90 percent of all buildings in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, were destroyed or damaged, including homes, schools and hospitals.

As many as 82,000 children are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance right now and Meninga said it is critical to get basic services back on line as soon as possible so that the nation can rebuild.

"We're going to rebuild some schools so the kids can go back into school and a lot of the money is also going back into basic supplies like water and shelter," said Meninga, who returns to Tanna Island on an almost annual basis.

Although the Vanuatu national rugby league team is very much in its infancy, Meninga said that rugby league is an immensely popular sport in Vanuatu and has strong connections within the game throughout Australia.

"You look at every rugby league community throughout Queensland and New South Wales and there will be some element of South Sea Islanders. A player or mum or dad, someone with South Sea blood in them involved in those communities," said Meninga, who was born in Bundaberg but grew up with a strong indoctrination into the South Sea Island culture. 

"It's a much followed sport, particularly in those islands. People like Larry Corowa, Gorden Tallis, Sam Backo and myself all created a bit of a following. 

"Now with Justin O’Neill being the latest guy to play National Rugby League, it’s generated quite a lot of interest.

"A lot of Australian South Sea Islanders have played the game at the highest level and they continue to play it at community levels as well.

"Rugby league is a fantastic game and when communities are in need they get behind it and this is the case at the moment."

To lend a hand to the people of Vanuatu, visit www.unicef.org.au/nrl or call the toll free number, 1800 822 542 to offer your donation.