Skip to main content Skip to home page
George Komiti, MVP - Open Mens / Source: Federation of International Touch
our stories

On a clear Friday morning in August 2023, the very best of Samoa’s touch rugby players gathered for what would be two days of intense competition. The local Opens Tournament had only recently come to a close. The Solomon Islands 2023 Pacific Games (Sol2023), due to commence in November, were looming as the next big goal. And within six days, the squad for Samoa’s Sol2023 men’s, women’s and mixed touch rugby teams would be announced.

The strategically timed National Elite Touch Championship 2023 (NET 2023), supported by the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports, was an opportunity for Samoa’s club-level players to make their case for national selection. Four teams took part: local franchises Tagaloa Lagi, Nafanua and Vaea; and a fourth team made up of affiliated members from Australia and New Zealand, Va’atausili. In total, 80 women and 88 men took part, with roughly half progressing to the National Training Squad, announced the following Thursday.

Arran Rogers, who played with Nafanua and captained both the men’s team and the mixed team, was among those selected for the Sol2023 squad.

“The National Elite Tournament set the platform for our athletes to not only compete at national level, but build capacity and skills,” says Arran.

With the squad named, Samoa’s touch rugby community had just three months to prepare their women’s, men’s and mixed teams for international competition. By the time the Sol2023 touch rugby competition was over, Samoa had achieved a clean sweep: gold, gold, gold.

Saelua Leaula – Team Captain & Open Mixed MVP / Source - Federation of International Touch

Samoa’s winning women

Perhaps the crowning achievement of the 2023 campaign was the buoyant and successful contribution of Samoa’s women. It began at the prestigious NET 2023 event, which saw a larger number of women participating than in any previous years, including both players and support staff. And it culminated in the development of a close-knit and highly skilful team that fought back from some round-robin losses to emerge victorious in the region’s most significant touch rugby competition.

Saelua Leaula, who played with Vaea at NET 2023 and was selected for the national team, believes the PacificAus-supported event was a crucial part of the players’ preparations.

“[NET 2023] was a big part of our success,” says Selua, who is currently in her second Super W season with the Perth-based Western Force. “It provided a platform for us to gel together as a team and get to know each other, not just on a professional level but also on a personal level. I hope there will be more opportunities in the future for overseas exposure which seems to be the fastest way to learn and improve my game and our team.”

Charlize Fleming, MVP - Open Womens / Source: Federation of International Touch
Arran Rogers - MVP Open Mixed & Mens Captain / Source: Federation of International Touch

Medal-wins and milestones

NET 2023 was part of a broader program of work aimed at building elite-level skills among Samoa’s top players, supporting their pathways to international competition.

Veteran player George Komiti represented Samoa in the 2019 Pacific Games, hosted in Samoa, and was back again in 2023, playing in both the men’s and mixed gold-winning teams.

“The 2023 Pacific Games were a true highlight for me and my sporting career,” he says. “I can attest that a lot has changed over the past four years and I’m really proud of how much Team Samoa has improved. The campaign was a testament to the hard work over the past years in rebuilding and reforming our athletes to set the standard higher.”

Fans of the Samoan game were especially pleased to see their teams’ efforts translate into victory over friendly rivals and defending champions, Papua New Guinea. The clean sweep in 2023 was a reversal of the results from the 2019 Games, where PNG claimed all three golds ahead of Samoa’s three silvers.

“[I have] so many emotions when I think back on, not only the Pacific Games, but all our preparations leading up to it,” says Charlize Fleming, Captain of the women’s team. “It’s an amazing feeling to come out with the gold-medal win just knowing all our hard work over the months has paid off. We worked extremely hard and I’m so proud of our team for their efforts.”

Adds George: “I feel blessed to have been part of this campaign and to represent Samoa once again. And I acknowledge PacificAus Sports for continuing to support us, and giving us opportunities to display the true quality of our athletes at national and international level.”


Across borders, and generations

Raised in New Zealand, Charlize played with the international composite team, Va’atausili, in NET 2023 and was one of a handful of Samoan-heritage players from outside the country selected in the national team.

“[I am] grateful to our coaches and management for putting together a solid team, with [players] coming in from Samoa, Australia and New Zealand,” she says. “This was an opportunity for me to build [connections] with my teammates and also learn more about my culture. I look forward to seeing more opportunities [such as this] for future generations of Touch Rugby.”

Next stop: Nottingham 2024

Building on the lessons of their successful Sol2023 campaign, Samoa’s touch rugby community are now gearing up for the Touch World Cup, to be held in Nottingham, England, in July 2024.

Their preparations received a boost in March with a week-long training program delivered by the Australian Defence Force Sports Cell (ADFSC), in partnership with organisations including Samoa Touch Rugby Inc., the International Federation of Touch Football, and the Red Cross.

Speaking at the program’s launch, the Honourable Minister of Sports and Recreation Laumatiamanu Ringo Purcell spoke of the “transformative power of sport”.

“This initiative aligns seamlessly with our broader vision to elevate the standard of sports within our nation, fostering a resilient, inclusive, and thriving sports culture,” he said.

The program provided Level One and Level Two accreditations in coaching and refereeing, as well as sports training, first aid, and strength and conditioning – and led to the accreditation of the nation’s first generation of accredited female coaches and referees.

Among them was Fefiloi Renate Kerstin, a touch rugby enthusiast who started playing the game seven years ago and is now President of Meitaki Touch Rugby Club.

“Being able to learn from Australians and have them share their knowledge has been great,” she says. “We have potential, we have people who can help, but we often lack facilities, funding and knowledge, so having the course delivered free of charge is wonderful.”

In mid-April, squads were announced for the World Cup trip to England. Now just a few weeks out, those involved are feeling a mixture of pride and responsibility.

“The World Cup is where the countries get their ranking,” explains President of Samoa Touch, Matiu Tuileva Tuileva. “It's important to have our name up there on the board and get that world ranking...especially coming off a successful Pacific Games competition. We'd like to imitate that success at a much wider stage, global stage – at the World Cup.” 

Preparations for the Touch World Cup received a boost in March with a week-long training program delivered by the Australian Defence Force Sports Cell (ADFSC), in partnership with local organisations. / Source: Australian High Commission, Samoa
Back to top Back to top