Tongan students commence training with UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program

Tongan students commence training with UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program

Participants will have the opportunity to train and engage with the local community and build cultural connections

Five promising young Tongan players have officially begun their training as part of a PacificAus Sports grant, awarded to the University of Wollongong (UOW).

The PacificAus Sports grant, an Australian government initiative, promotes sports development in the Pacific and creates opportunities for talented athletes and teams to access high performance coaching, competitions, and facilities.

The grant enables the players, chosen by Tonga Rugby Union, to undergo an intensive three-month training program with the UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program. The training is led by coaches from renowned New Zealand Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders, one of the most successful teams in world rugby.

Under the guidance of the experienced coaching staff, the Tongan athletes will refine their rugby skills and acquire invaluable knowledge to take their game to the next level. The training program will cover various aspects of the sport, including technical proficiency, tactical awareness, physical conditioning, and mental resilience.

UOW Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Innovation, Enterprise and External Relations) Professor Alex Frino said the UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program represents a unique partnership that combines academic excellence with sporting expertise.

“UOW is renowned for its commitment to sports education and research, providing an ideal setting for the Tongan students to train and learn,” Professor Frino said.

“The state-of-the-art facilities and world-class coaching expertise available at UOW will further enhance their development and help them reach their full potential.

“This training initiative not only benefits the individual athletes but also strengthens the relationship between Australia and Tonga. Rugby has always served as a unifying force, transcending cultural boundaries and promoting friendship between nations.

“This initiative aligns perfectly with our commitment to international engagement and sports development. We look forward to witnessing the growth and success of these athletes and to deepening the University’s relationship with Tonga Rugby Union.”

Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding, who is also a UOW graduate, said: "Having Tongan students training at UOW has been a game-changer for Tonga Rugby Union.

"The partnership with UOW will not only provide our players with world-class training facilities but also nurture their talent, helping them excel both on and off the field.

"The support and resources provided by UOW have been instrumental in shaping the future of Tongan rugby, and we are incredibly grateful for this transformative collaboration."

UOW Crusaders Global Rugby, Program Head Coach Andy Gibson said: "We extend a warm welcome to Tongan students joining us at the University for their rugby training.

“It's an absolute pleasure to have them here on our campus, and we are thrilled to provide them with a world-class training experience.

“We aim to instill in them not only the skills and techniques of rugby but also the values of teamwork, discipline, and resilience. Our goal is to empower them to excel both on and off the field, nurturing their holistic development.”

Siutiti Maake is one of the players participating in the program; she is studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of the South Pacific in Tonga and is excited to get professional training from Crusaders coaches.

“I am truly honoured to represent Tonga and have the opportunity to train at the University of Wollongong with coaching from the Crusaders,” she said.

“The facilities and training here are great, and I am grateful for the support and coaching offered by the Crusaders coaches. Back in Tonga, we don't have access to such resources, so being here has been the best training experience of my career.

“I have learned new techniques and skills that will improve my game. I aspire to play overseas and proudly represent Tonga on a global stage, showing how talented our nation is.”

Sitani Vakata, is studying a Bachelor of Law at the University of the South Pacific and is excited to have started the training and looks forward to developing his skills and knowledge.

"I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to train at UOW with the Crusaders coaches,” he said.

“Rugby has always been a significant part of my life. My father, who is a rugby coach in Tonga, inspired me to play the game, and I continue to ask for his help to improve my skills.

He is eager to enhance his tackling, passing, and overall rugby abilities. Playing as a lock is his favourite position, and he hopes to excel in that role.

His advice for up-and-coming rugby players and students is “to prioritise fitness, balance studies and the game, and work hard to achieve your goals”.

“I am grateful for this opportunity, and I hope to give back to Tonga by representing our nation on the rugby field with passion and pride.”


The UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program is a professional rugby training program that UOW students can undertake alongside their studies. The program is designed to attract talented rugby players from across the world who can develop their skills in a professional environment, while studying at UOW or UOW College Australia.

Athletes benefit from professional coaching while gaining a world-class education. This gives participants the opportunity to achieve excellence on the field and in their studies. The program is led by a full-time coach from New Zealand Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders with extensive expertise in player development and high-performance coaching.