Vanuatu's push for rugby league aid
Tweed Heads captain James Wood is hopeful that this weekend's Intrust Super Cup round dedicated to raising funds for cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu will also highlight the nation's burgeoning presence in rugby league.
In conjunction with the NRL's UNICEF Appeal that has already raised more than $115,000 in the wake of Cyclone Pam, Round 7 of the Intrust Super Cup and all Queensland Rugby League sanctioned competitions will be devoted to raising funds to aid in the rebuild of the Pacific nation.
It's a commitment that is personal for Wood whose mother was born and raised in the Sanma province in northern Vanuatu and has friends and family in the capital of Port Vila, his family raising thousands of dollars at Seagulls home games in the past month from collections taken at the ground.
As a director and co-founder of the Vanuatu Rugby League in 2011, Wood and a small yet passionate team have been working tirelessly to develop the game in Vanuatu and despite making significant progress admitted that they still have a lot they want to achieve.
A Vanuatu national team has played matches against Greece and the Philippines in recent years and are hopeful of hosting Italy later this year but what Wood is working towards most is to bolster the game at grassroots level.
"There are three teams in the north in Santo and six teams in Port Vila but the competition is sporadic," Wood told NRL.com.
"They tend to play more Nines tournaments and they play games from time to time but it would be great with the support of the rugby league community to employ someone full-time in a development role to start and run a competition across two provinces and try and develop players.
"There are teams there though and there are quite good players. One of the guys who came out of Vanuatu recently is now playing professional rugby in France.
"There is a lot of raw talent and because rugby was strong there for a long time there are blokes there with a bit of a base and I think league suits them a bit better.
"It's been a hard slog to get where we are and I don't think a lot of people are aware of what we do.
"We do as much as we cannot just for rugby league but for the Vanuatu community and try and help young blokes get an education or pursue a football career in Australia but it's not an easy process and you've got to run it on a shoestring."
Queensland coach Mal Meninga – a proud descendant of Tanna Island – has championed the Vanuatu appeal and in the process highlighted the somewhat untold story of indentured labour of South Sea Islanders into Queensland in the late 1800s.
Wood applauded the Queensland Rugby League for taking up such an initiative to help a nation that has over the years produced a great many of the state's champion footballers.
"If you look at the history of the Queensland Rugby League a lot of the legends came out of that central area of Queensland around Bundaberg and places like that," Wood said. "A lot of them have connections to the Pacific through the 'blackbirding' trade so I think the Queensland Rugby League probably has a duty because so many people up the eastern seaboard have contributed so much to rugby league at the grassroots, state and national level."
A regular visitor back to Vanuatu, Wood said that there is much to be learned from the Pacific Islands way of life.
"I love the Vanuatu way of life and am more that way inclined than I am westernised," said Tweed Heads' most capped player.
"I love the laid-back type of lifestyle and no drama is ever too big. It's a, 'There's always a tomorrow' type attitude.
"There's something that I think a lot of people could learn from a culture like that and many other cultures in the Pacific."
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.
To sponsor or learn more about Vanuatu Rugby League visit www.vanuaturl.com.