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An exhilarating week of Australian rules football has drawn to a close in Fiji with the completion of the 12th Oceania Cup, the Pacific’s premier youth footy tournament. The PNG Binatangs have emerged as champions of the men’s competition, and the Tonga Storm took the title for the tournament’s first-ever women’s competition.

Supported by the Australian Government’s high performance PacificAus Sports program, 152 players & 24 coaches from PNG, Tonga, Fiji, and Nauru came together, uniting around a shared love of Aussie Rules. The Oceania Cup also provides an opportunity for talent identification. Up to 30 male and 30 female players from the tournament are invited to join the South Pacific Talent Camps in March 2024 where they will play against the SUNS and Lions Academy teams, providing extra motivation for the players.

The tournament began with a warm-up lightning carnival on the first day, and Nauru made an early statement by taking out both the men’s and women’s carnivals.

Nauru receiving lightning cup women's and men's trophies / Photos provided by the AFL

The main competition then kicked off on day two, with some highly entertaining football on display. The Nauru Stars maintained their early form and won their way through to the much-anticipated men’s grand final against the PNG Binatangs. The match lived up to expectations, with a tight tussle resulting in a hard-earned 40-27 victory for the Binatangs, thanks to standout performances from David Sevara, Leeroy Pisimi, Allan Sevara, Caleb Kunjil, Manson Gubana, and Malachai Bakani.

Nauru also featured in the women’s grand final up against the Tonga Storm, however they again fell short 13-6. Tongan stars Salome Holika, Litea Aloua, and Lilani Fine led the way to help their team secure a maiden women’s Oceania Cup victory.

PNG Binatangs and Tonga Storm crowned Oceania Cup champions / Photos provided by the AFL

The inclusion of a women’s competition for the first time is a positive indication of the greater inclusion and growing sporting pathways for women and girls in the Pacific, which is one of the key goals of PacificAus Sports. The program supports full inclusivity, equity and equality for all peoples, and recognises the powerful role sport plays in achieving these outcomes.

Australian High Commissioner to Fiji and Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs Ewen McDonald attended the tournament and reflected on the growth of the sport in the Pacific.

“Australia and the Pacific have always shared a deep love of sport, and this is being further strengthened by the growing popularity of Australian Rules Football throughout the region. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Oceania Cup, and I was very impressed by the level of skill and spirit on display, not only from the players, but also the coaches, support staff and umpires. Through PacificAus Sports, the Australian Government continues to create new opportunities for Pacific athletes to play, grow and train together, and I am excited to see the next wave of Pacific talent working towards future careers in the AFL and AFLW.”

Unity through footy / Photos provided by the AFL

AFL International Development Manager Ben Drew expressed his gratitude for the Australian Government’s role in growing Australian football in the Pacific.

“We extend our thanks to the Australian Government and PacificAus Sports and the Fijian, Tongan, Nauruan, and Papua New Guinean Governments,” Drew said.  

“Their continued support of the South Pacific High-Performance Pathway, the Oceania Cup, and our broader work in the South Pacific helps us to grow the game of Australian football outside of Australia. 

“In 2023, participation in our game across the South Pacific has continued to grow, with an increase of 28 per cent on participation prior to COVID. More than 500 coaches and umpires educated, and over 46 per cent of people involved in our game at all levels are female.” 

For more action from the Oceania Cup, be sure to head over to the AFL South Nations Facebook page, and check back here throughout 2024 to follow the journeys of these talented young players as they aim to become the next Hewago Paul ‘Ace’ Oea or Zimmorlei Farquhason.

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