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Rozel Laulua; Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Mr Will Robinson; Rosabel Tuatagaloa
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All they needed was an opportunity. Rosabel Tuatagaloa, from Samoa’s United Soulz Club, and Rozel (Rosalia) Laulua, from SCOPA Netball Club are two of Samoa’s rising netball stars. Like many other Pacific netballers, Rosabel and Rozel had a deep respect for the professionalism of Australia’s elite-level players – but they also believed in their own abilities.

“If Australia can do it, why can’t we?” says Rosabel. “We just need to put in the hard work.” 
In March, the women eagerly took advantage of what Rozel describes as a “golden opportunity”, joining the Ipswich Jets Netball Club, west of Brisbane, for just over three weeks of high-performance coaching and training. 

They made their journey as part of the Athlete Immersion Program, a Netball Australia initiative funded by the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports, and delivered in partnership with Netball Federations in Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. 

The program embeds emerging Pacific netballers with high-quality Australian teams with the aim of building their skills and their confidence. Over several weeks, the players experience the intensity of elite-level training, and are introduced to different tools, techniques and strategies to help them achieve their best, from ball-drills to game-day nutrition. 

“The level of netball here in Australia is really high. The reactions of the players are so fast – and the coaches are so strict!” laughs Rosabel.

The Samoan players’ time with the Jets was supported and managed by Head Coach, Paula Stewart, and Operations Manager, Troye Pollock. As the team farewelled the visitors at the end of their stay, Paula posted on Facebook: “You both have done Samoa proud. In only three-and-a-half weeks you both packed in so much knowledge to take back to Samoa. Well done.”

Making the most of every opportunity

In addition to playing and training with the Jets, Rosabel and Rozel also completed courses in coaching and umpiring, and helped run clinics for junior squads. The experience opened their minds to what they could do to help strengthen the netball community back home. Indeed, Rosabel was so inspired that she applied for a role with Netball Samoa on her return, and now works there as a development officer. 

“We can start growing the game instead of just waiting for people to come in.” she says. “We can go back to our country and give it to the people, especially our young players that are starting to feel the love for netball in Samoa.” 

Since completing the program, 26-year-old Rozel now sees herself having an impact as an umpire or a coach sometime in the future.

“Now that we have [done] these programs, we can come back to our communities and help our locals and [share with them] how it’s done here in Australia,” she says. “It all comes down to commitment and how you believe in yourself as a player. Who knows, maybe I can become a coach for one of Samoa’s teams, or perhaps play for Samoa.”

Rosabel and Rozel completed courses in coaching and umpiring, and helped run clinics for junior squads. /
Rozel (left) and Rosabel spent three weeks with the Ipswich Jets Netball Club as part of the Athlete Immersion Program. /

Different paths to the netball court

Although both are at the top of their game, the two Samoan players came to netball in very different ways. Rosabel remembers attending Netball Samoa clinics in Apia Park from the time she was just five years old, having been introduced to the game by her mother.  

“My inspiration is my mum,” she says. “She was never part of any international tournament, but her love for the game made me fall in love with the game, too. It’s how she communicates, and how she helps develop the new players that are coming into our club. It’s just the way she explains the game. I look up to her as a role model.”

In contrast, Rozel didn’t pull on a netball bib until she was at the National University of Samoa. 

“Netball was never on my list of sports when I was little. But when I moved up to university, that’s when I started playing with some friends at the gym for fun. In 2021, I joined SCOPA Netball Club and that’s when I started developing my skills in the game,” she says.

“Now, I really love netball. I can’t go a day without playing, even if it’s just a friendly match or training.”

Cultural connections

Since the Athlete Immersion Program was first run in 2021, clubs across Australia have hosted 32 netballers from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea. 

In addition to Rosabel and Rozel’s stay with the Jets, this year saw three players each from Fiji and Tonga, and two from Papua New Guinea, embedded with clubs across New South Wales and Queensland: the South Coast Blaze, Bond University Netball and the Brisbane South Wildcats.

The program has a reputation for improving players’ skills, but there is also an emphasis on building relationships and cross-cultural understanding. 

The Jets, for example, has an exceptionally close bond with Samoa. In 2023, Abigail Latu-Meafou, current captain of Samoa’s national netball team, Tifa Moana, played with the Ipswich club. The Jets Head Coach, Paula, also coaches Samoa’s U21s netball team. 

The Ipswich area is home to many people with close ties to the Pacific, and visiting players are encouraged to catch up with relatives and attend church, as they would in Samoa.

In her role as Operations Manager, Troye has been delighted to host Samoan players in her own home as part of the Athlete Immersion Program. She even keeps photos of the netballers she has hosted in amongst her family portraits. 

“It made us feel like we never left home,” says Rozel. 

Adds Rosabel: “Troye and her family welcomed us with open arms and treated us as their own. It is an honour to feel loved. I am forever grateful.” 

With the Athlete Immersion Program behind them, Rozel and Rosabel are ready to let their netball dreams take flight – for themselves, and for their country. 

“One of the [things] I learned in Australia is that you take everything that’s coming your way,” says Rosabel. “Don’t hesitate, and don’t give up on your dreams. If you want to be the best netballer you just have to earn it, work hard, and go for it.”

Rozel agrees. “If you know that you love netball, just put your mind to it, keep training hard, and follow your dreams. If those [other] people can do it, you can also do it – we all can do it!” 

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