There are two sports that rule the roost in this part of the world, two sports that handle those who want a bit of body contact. Rugby and rugby league, they both have strangleholds on different areas of the South Pacific and are the go to sports for anyone wanting to smash someone else. Both codes offer opportunities for all shapes and sizes and as we know they offer skill sets that can cross over in to the other code.
I smell a battle brewing. While rugby seems to not want to have anything to do with the Pacific islands, rugby league can't send officials there quick enough. The NRL and Sonny Bill Williams visited Samoa for a feel good tour, while the NZRU had to be forced to contemplate taking a game to Samoa. Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler head to the islands each year in search of some talent and to spread the good vibes, we've seen the Hunters from Papa New Guinea have a successful debut season in the Intrust Super Cup and we continue to see the likes of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji play consistent international rugby league.
I smell a battle brewing because rugby league is smelling an opportunity. An opportunity to slide on in to the Pacific islands and instill the foundations for rugby league to be the key sport throughout the islands. They have a head start, while the All Blacks and the NZRU were figuring out how to deal with the negative press, the NRL took their chance.
I love rugby league and so you could think that I want the NRL to win this battle. But I don't really care which sport wins this battle, I just want to see someone put some investment in to it. I want to see the Pacific islands win and for the people and their countries to enjoy the rewards as they have and will continue to provide us with copious amounts of talent. They deserve something, at the very least they deserve to be fought over.
We all know that high schools in New Zealand grab talented youngsters straight from the islands and bring them in to play rugby. Yes, it happens, whatever spin you want to put on it, it happens. This raises a few questions - are they helping the islands by developing these young men with opportunities they wouldn't get otherwise? Is this in any way beneficial to the islands? Or does it just make the old boys club who sit and talk rugby, happy? Both sides of this battle are guilty of using the islands merely to benefit themselves, there isn't much - "hey you've done this for us so we're gonna do this for you", type of thing.
I live in a fantasy world where my Battle Of The Pacific actually benefits the Pacific islands as well. I don't see a many financial benefits that will come on the back of being the prominent sport in the islands. Sure you might sell a few more Auckland Blues or Penrith Panthers jerseys, but you're hardly going to build you a nice little fund to retire on. This is why no one really cares about the Pacific islands, not just in sport but in every facet of life. There's no benefit for New Zealand or Australia to really invest much in to the islands because they get pretty much nothing in reply.
So what's the point? Don't you just want to see more smiles on faces? There doesn't need be any reward for our nations to help out, it should just be from the goodness of our hearts. So what's the point of any sort of battle? The islands are a melting pot of talented youngsters so I come back around to providing these youngsters with opportunities and allowing them to show their peers that there's something bigger out there. That's where the feel factor kicks in - when players start making some moola in professional sport, they can give back to their communities. Who's to say that something like what we're seeing with Steven Adams can't happen? The NRL/Super Rugby is the NBA. Samoa/Tonga/Fiji are New Zealand benefiting from the kind nature of a sports star.
The Battle Of The Pacific is about talent. It's about getting the best talent to commit to playing in the NRL or Super Rugby, it's about getting kids playing rugby instead of rugby league at lunch time and vice versa. I know for sure that whoever invests the most in to the islands will get the most in return, they'll have the kids worshiping their code's star players. Who knows, rugby and rugby league might ignore the islands for too long, loosing their grip as other sports slide on in. An opportunity lost just because the cash didn't stack up how they wanted.