Members of Simaima Taufa’s family in Tonga have had to rely on shipments of supplies and money transfers from relatives in Australia and New Zealand, but they consider themselves to be fortunate.
Most of the inaugural Eels NRLW captain’s uncles, aunties and cousins live inland so weren’t in the path of the January 15 tsunami caused by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, but ash infected drinking water and caused other damage.
“Many of my family are in the middle of Tonga so they were lucky,” Taufa said. “They got hit by the ash clouds and water supplies have been limited but they have been going okay so far.
“We have been able to send containers and barrels for them to survive on, and send them some money just for them to be able to get day to day essentials.”
Taufa: 'I want to inspire the next generation of young Tongan ladies'
On the eve of the opening round of NRLW matches in Newcastle on Sunday, Taufa and Parramatta team-mate Tiana Penitani have thrown their support behind the NRL’s Tonga Relief appeal.
The NRL has an incredibly strong connection to the Pacific, and Taufa and Penitani are among dozens of players with Tongan heritage.
“My mum is Aussie and my dad [Solomone] was Tongan. He was born in the islands and grew up as a child there, before moving to New Zealand and then to Australia,” Penitani said.
“I am proud of my Tongan heritage and knowing how small Tonga is, it hits pretty hard when something like this happens, but we are doing what we can in Australia and as a code to support them as much as we can.
“A large percentage of NRL players and players in our elite pathways are from Tonga so there is a special connection. They give us so much in terms of the talent we have here that contributes so heavily to our game, so I think to be able to give back to Tonga is really important.”
Taufa was born in Tonga, and grew up in Auckland before moving to Sydney.
“Both my mum and dad’s siblings still reside in Tonga so we have been in contact with them about what was the best way we could help,” she said.
The Jillaroos star is one of four finalists for the Veronica White Medal in recognition of her work in the community, which has included launching and promoting the Voice Against Violence program in Tonga.
She regularly donates rugby league playing kits to support junior teams in Tonga and has featured alongside Jason Taumalolo on a billboard in the island Kingdom.
“It is incredible to see the amount of support across the board for that Tonga Relief to help this small country out,” Taufa said.
“They have had the misfortune of a cyclone a couple of years ago and now a tsunami but it is great how the NRL and the NRL clubs have gotten involved in this appeal for people to donate.”
The NRL has partnered with the Australian Red Cross through the pre-season trial matches and round one of the Telstra NRL Women’s Premiership to raise money for the recovery efforts in Tonga.
With help from clubs, players, fans and partners the NRL is aiming to play a role in an estimated 24-month recovery operation in Tonga.
Donations to the Tonga Relief appeal aim to meet the immediate, early and long-term recovery needs of the most vulnerable communities; focussing on emergency shelter provision, cash and voucher assistance, disease prevention and psychological support, water, sanitisation and hygiene, continuing response operations, as well as strengthening Tonga Red Cross’ preparedness for future events.