International Rugby League match marks Samoa Independence Day at Aloha Stadium

Photo Credit:
The Aloha Stadium

(Honolulu, HAWAI'I)--USA Tomahawks will meet the Toa Samoa from sovereign Samoa in an historic Rugby League match that will mark Samoa Independence Day, Saturday, June 1, 2013, at the Aloha Stadium.

This is the first time a rugby league international test match will be played on the Hawaiian Airlines field at Hawai’i’s largest outdoor arena – home to the University of Hawaii Warriors football team and the annual NFL Pro Bowl game.

“This game means a lot,” said Kelly McGill, president of Grand Pacific Events which is hosting the June 1 game. “Both USA and Samoa have made the Rugby League World Cup. Both are in the top 10. This is a really important game.”

Hawai’i Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui will be in attendance, McGill told

McGill, a Tomahawks player, says in preparation for the Rugby League World Cup the US had to find “new talent” so the June 1 match, in part, is being held “to see where we’re at…to find the team chemistry.”

Philadelphia-based Tomahawks, the United States’ national rugby league team, has made the Rugby League World Cup this year, their first time in the tournament set for Oct. 26 through Nov. 30, 2013. England and Wales will host the tournament and games will also be played in France and Ireland.

Governing body of rugby league football is the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). It is not to be confused with rugby union football which is governed by the International Rugby Board (IRB). In the IRB, USA Eagles represent the Unites States and Manu Samoa represents independent Samoa. The two different rugby codes can be referred to simply as “league” and “union” rugby.

“It's a win-win situation for us,” said Keikiokalani Misipeka-Kelemete, a former Manu Samoa player who is on the Tomahawks roster.

McGill and Misipeka-Kelemete excitedly agree that rugby league offers a new opportunity for island youth.

“The game is in our blood, just recently the NFL has partnered up with rugby to promote the game during NFL preseason games,” says Misipeka-Kelemete, “And they are pushing for the game to become professional next year. We get the best of both worlds. The game comes so naturally to us and the physicality of the game is something we feed and thrive off of. The game continues to grow in the US sports industry. The fans love to watch hard nose physical sports. I believe rugby provides that type of intensity the US fan base wants to see.”

Misipeka-Kelemete, 32, is from Fagatogo, American Samoa. He played union for seven years and league for five years. His rugby career began with the Fagatogo Rugby Club American Samoa. He took a break from rugby to play college football. In 2004, he moved back home and took up rugby again.

“I was selected to participate in the Manu Samoa trials and was fortunate enough I believe to be the first or second player from American Samoa to be selected by the Manu Samoa National Team,” he said. “I was part of the Manu Samoa and High Performance unit until 2007. In 2008 I took up other rugby opportunities in the United States that eventually led me to play Rugby League. In 2009, me and my younger brother Kea were selected to play for the USA National Rugby League Tomahawks.”

Misipeka-Kelemete moved back to American Samoa after the 2010 season and has since continued to participate in international matches with the USA team.

“It’s a great year for the USA. The sport is growing so fast over here,” McGill said. “Because we have played here, there are now some playing professional in Australia. Hawai’i has been identified as one of those islands like Samoa and Tonga…and we (Tomahawks) are trying to make Hawai’i our home base.”

He notes this year hunky rugby league footballer and heavyweight boxer, New Zealand born Sonny Bill Williams, will make a decision on where he will play next. SBW plays for the Sydney Roosters. McGill says SBW may join Toa Samoa or a New Zealand squad.

Rugby league has been described as the “most physical of all contact sports” and Misipeka- Kelemete says MMA and wrestling have been incorporated into rugby league training.

“Rugby league is pretty straight forward smash-mouth for 80 minutes,” he explained.

“We are here trying to give our fans and the kids something to enjoy…we are a rugby family and we can celebrate all the different styles of rugby,” said McGill. “The Hawai’i Tourism Authority is sponsoring this event and we want to thank the State of Hawai’i and the HTA for their support…a celebration of Samoa and rugby. What a great day this will be. It’s Samoan Independence Day.”

Hawai'i-based promoters NesianFest is also helping GPE coordinate the June 1 festival.

Previously, GPE hosted rugby league games in Hawai’i that brought the Tonga and Queensland Indigenous All Stars squads to play USA at the Kaiser High School field on O’ahu.

The Toa Samoa-Tomahawks match is the finale to the Samoa Independence Day Rugby Festival which includes Under 19 and adult squads based on O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island.

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the rugby festival is scheduled to begin with youth (Under 19) Rugby Sevens action followed by the adult Sevens competition 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. A concert including island reggae star Ilona Irvine and Isle 4 is set for 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. There will also be vendor booths.

Opening ceremony for the international test match is at 7 p.m. Game starts at 7:30 p.m.

Samoa, formerly Western Samoa, gained its independence from New Zealand 51 years ago, on Jan. 1, 1962, the first island nation to gain political independence in the post-colonial Pacific. Samoa Independence Day is celebrated each year on June 1. Samoa officially dropped the “Western” from its name in 1997.

The festival is one of two events being hosted on O’ahu to mark Samoa Independence Day. Community group Leo O Tumua ma Pule will host a flag raising ceremony 8 a.m. at the fale Samoa, at the Kuhio Park Terrace Community Resource Center.

“To my Samoan brothers I want to congratulate you on our Samoa Independence day. I want to wish both sides of the ball the best of luck,” Misipeka-Kelemete says. “After living and playing in Samoa it's not going to be easy for me facing the Siva Tau. But on this June 1st it's all about the Red, White and Blue. No matter the results, we can celebrate together after the game.”

Tickets are on sale now at the Aloha Stadium Box Office. Go to for ticket information.

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