The NRL is awash with players of Pasifika origin and heritage, but not one single coach

The NRL is awash with players of Pasifika origin and heritage, but not one single coach. Picture: ABC

SYDNEY, 23 OCTOBER 2021 (ABC) – When it comes to diversity in Australia’s National Rugby League, there is no shortage, and the huge Pasifika presence is there for all to see, with around fifty percent of the current players of Pacific origin or with Pacific heritage.

But when it comes to coaching, then it’s very different story.

Recently over in England, the former Samoa and New Zealand international, Willie Poching took over as coach at the Super League team, Wakefield Trinity.

His appointment made history because it was the first time a Samoan had been put in charge of a first grade club anywhere in the world. Prior to him former Tongan international Jim Dymock was briefly in charge of the Bulldogs in the NRL back in 2011, and although former Canberra Raiders coach, Mal Meninga has South Sea island heritage, it is rarely highlighted in the media.

So why the discrepancy? Why is the number of past Pasifika players being given the chance to coach at the highest level, virtually none?

Dr David Lakisa investigated the whole question of Pacific Sport and Diversity for his PhD, and is now Managing Director of Talanoa Consultancy, which specialises in assisting sports clubs in developing a greater cultural understanding of Pasifika players and employees.

“Perhaps there is something of a stigma attached to Pacific prowess off the field in terms of Pasifika being viewed as just a physical prowess, and not in terms of mental social leadership capabilities, whereas we know in Pasifika culture, that it translates completely off the field,” Dr Lakisa told Pacific Beat.

However in correcting the imbalance, Dr Lakisa warns against tokenism.

“…just because you have a Pasifika coach does not necessarily translate to competency, or in the sports world, wins. It’s good to be Pasifika, but even better to be Pasifika and competent.”

Dr Lakisa is urging NRL clubs to invest in their Pasifika contingents, and invest in their key values of family kinship, spirituality, culture and service.

“If half your employees are from a particular cultural background, then as managers you can’t afford not to invest in them. Cultural competency is a non-negotiable skill, and if you’re not engaging and understanding and supporting your employees properly, then you’re behind the eight ball,” he said.

More Stories