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Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Pat Conroy MP, with members of Tonga’s national rugby teams, Ikale Tahi, and the Queensland Reds.

This July, the women’s and men's teams of the Queensland Reds will travel to Tonga to compete against Tonga’s national teams, the Ikale Tahi, on their own home ground.

The tour will give the Tongan teams valuable match experience as they prepare for two significant tournaments: the men’s Pacific Nations Cup commencing in August, and the qualifying rounds of the women’s WXV, the annual global women’s international 15s competition.

The historic international games, to be played at Teufaiva Sports Stadium in Nukuʻalofa, are part of the Australia-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership (APRUP) between Rugby Australia and the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports.

“The Albanese Government is proud to be partnering with Rugby Australia and the Queensland Reds through PacificAus Sports to further the development of women’s and men’s rugby in Tonga,” said Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Pat Conroy MP.  “Whether it’s Tonga’s iconic victory over the Wallabies in 1973 or through former World Cup winning Wallaby Toutai Kefu, whose father Fatai played in the 1973 Tongan team – our connections through sport are a source of strength and unity between our nations.”

Building rugby pathways from the ground up

The games between the Queensland Reds and the Ikale Tahi teams are part of a week-long program of activities, hosted by Tonga Rugby Union. Alongside high-performance training sessions, coaching clinics, and women-in-rugby leadership forums, the Tongan and Australian players will also take part in community events including school visits to help build the grassroots game and promote rugby’s inclusive pathways.

"We can’t wait to travel to Tonga and deepen ties with our Tongan rugby family,” says Queensland Reds CEO, Brett Clarke. “This year, we had three of Tonga's best coaches working with our women's team under the PacificAus Sports program, and this tour will further strengthen the partnership between our two rugby unions.”

One of the talented Tongan coaches who spent time with the Queensland Reds this year was Eddie Aholelei, Head Coach of Tonga’s national women’s team. As the season progressed, Eddie was promoted to the assistant coaching role with the Reds Super W team.

“The Australian Government has been a great supporter of my professional development and Tongan sport, providing players and coaches with pathways to achieving their goals,” says Eddie. 

Making history, on and off the field

This will be the first time the Queensland Reds men have played Tonga in almost 30 years, and the first-ever match between the women’s sides, a milestone that is not lost on Ikale Tahi halfback, Ana Ngahe.

“From watching professional women’s rugby on TV to witnessing them in real life – it will be a life-changing moment for our Tongan local girls,” she says. “There will be so much excitement from our players and fans. I have no doubt that there will be an even higher level of support for women's rugby in Tonga after this game – something I am very grateful for.”

Ana is also involved in another APRUP initiative as a member of the Penina Pasifika, a team comprising players from across the Pacific. Penina Pasifika played its inaugural matches this year in the Super Rugby Women’s pre-season competition, performing well beyond expectations.

Queensland Reds No.8 Harry Wilson, who has played in Tonga once before, also spoke about his excitement at the prospect of another match in the island nation.

"It's exciting to have back-to-back matches in the Queensland jersey against two very different international sides,” he says. “I was lucky enough to travel to Tonga last year with Australia A so I know how awesome the local crowd is. They only cheer for one team but that's pretty cool being on the other side of it. The ground was so packed that people were watching from trees. I'll definitely be fit in July to be considered for a great trip."

This year also saw the first ever men’s Super Rugby Pacific match played in Tonga, between the Highlanders from New Zealand, and the Moana Pasifika with players of Tongan heritage.

“We witnessed the tremendous support of Tongan rugby fans during [the] game played in Tonga earlier this year, and we believe that this upcoming tour will be even bigger, thanks to the Australian Government's support,” says Eddie.

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