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With almost half of the NRL playing pool now made up of players who identify as Māori or Pasifika, wellbeing programs across the game are evolving to cater specifically to the intricacies which exist in those cultural groups. 

This year the NRL began delivering the Pasifika Culture Competency Training, a module which encapsulates identity and culture, and how they link into the culture of a club, as part of its mandatory program delivery to players and football staff.

Former New Zealand and Samoa international David Solomona, who is now the NRL players wellbeing program manager based in Queensland, sees it as a crucial step forward and says it is evidence of the benefits that come from having diversity in decision-making roles. 

"A lot of it comes down to the people that have a say in the creation of programs. I think in the past because it was such a new space, the NRL would create programs based off the ideas of two or three people in the office and then send it out," Solomona said. 

"Having input from people in different communities with different backgrounds, understanding where people sit, even just the difference between New South Wales and Queensland, is important.

With having that Pasifika flavour across the game, it's really important we create programs that are specific for this large group of players we have.

David Solomona NRL players wellbeing program manager

"I feel like it's a bit of a turning point for the game."

The module was developed alongside Dr David Lakisa, who among his long list of achievements completed a PhD on 'Pacific Sport and Diversity Management'.

Solomona says the sessions are run with Māori and Pasifika cultural customs in mind, and while tailored to those groups, they have value for everyone in the game.

The State of Mind team return to WA

"We sit in a circle because we understand the importance of having a hui (gathering in Māori), having a talanoa (a term for a gathering commonly used by Tongans, Samoans, and Fijians) and being able to have everyone equal and part of the conversation," Solomona said. 

"That allows everyone to feel part of the group, no matter their culture, and this is good for non-Māori and Pasifika players to hear stories about why teammates might do the things they do. 

"When you celebrate one culture it allows the game to kind of celebrate everyone's culture as well." 

A similar approach is being rolled out across the ditch, with the New Zealand Rugby League wellbeing team leaning on a collection of former star players to help them further tailor their delivery.

A league club with a particularly large Samoan contingent might have the message delivered to them by former Toa Samoa superstar Ali Lauiti'iti, a predominantly Tongan group could get six-time Mate Ma'a Tonga rep Epalahame Lauaki, while Māori women's great Krystal Rota is on the crew too. 

The NZRL work alongside Pasifika support organisation Le Va and suicide prevention training program LifeKeepers to deliver their Wellbeing Waka and Find your Front programs.

Cliff Thompson (left) and Ali Lauiti'iti with Broncos winger Jordan Pereira. Photo: NZRL/Cliff Thompson
Cliff Thompson (left) and Ali Lauiti'iti with Broncos winger Jordan Pereira. Photo: NZRL/Cliff Thompson

NZRL wellbeing manager Cliff Thompson said the overall goal is to educate key people in rugby league communities to enable them to drive the wellbeing message.

"It's asking them, what do these things mean in your culture or community? What's the closest concept to wellbeing in your culture?" Thompson says.

"Because that's all wellbeing is, it's not what I think you need, a big part of it is listening to the individual about what helps them." 

In the end Solomona hopes the efforts to deliver a wellbeing message through a more multicultural lens will help current and future players avoid some of the issues he faced as a young NRL prospect at the Roosters. 

If they'd had stuff like this, I wouldn't have went through the days crying and ringing my mum and dad telling them I wanted to come back to Auckland.

David Solomona

"Man, I made my mum and little brother move to Sydney for three or four months because I got too homesick. 

"Those experiences go into what I am trying to do in the game now. Hopefully this will make things a bit easier for the next group of players." 

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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