(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 tautalatala.com.
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.