Sport: NRL and Sonny Bill touch down in Samoa
An NRL delegation including Roosters star Sonny Bill Williams visits Samoa as part of the launch of the Pacific Strategy.
A National Rugby League delegation including Sydney Roosters star Sonny Bill Williams visited Samoa this week to help launch the league's Pacific Strategy, which aims to boost the sport's popularity and forge closer ties with the region.
The delegation, which also includes Australia coach Tim Sheens, has visited schools, met with the Prime Minister and also plans to hold talks with business groups
National Rugby League boss Dave Smith told Vinnie Wylie the Pacific Islands will play a crucial part in the future of rugby league and the visit is part of an ongoing commitment.
DAVE SMITH: We have hundreds and hundreds of kids and they were doing their participation piece as well as some nutrition and healthy living exercises, so it's been fantastic - really really good - and Sonny's been amazing, taking lots of photos and mixing with the kids and he's having a good time too.
VINNIE WYLIE: How important is the Pacific Islands to the future of the NRL and the future of rugby league?
DS: There's sort of a number of dimensions. To the NRL competition, nearly 40 percent of our players are from Pacific Island heritage, and that increase everyday, so it's a significant development pathway for us but equally I think important because as a game we do so much for our communities, our different cultures, and this is a real opportunity for Sonny Bill to come back and give something back to his heritage. He's a great player but I think he's been thrilled just mixing with the kids and I think at an international level with the Four Nations this year, with the World Cup in 2017, the Pacific Engagement Strategy really will mean that the Pacific Islands teams they're going to be strong coming into the 2017 competitions.
VW: So you've got these programmes for the children: 50,000 [kids] in Papua New Guinea and 10,000 in Samoa and Fiji to help educate life skills amongst many of these young Pacific Islands students. Where did the drive for this campaign begin?
DS: We launched it last year in Papua New Guinea - it's called League For Life. It's just teaching kids about healthy living, about running around and keeping yourself fit, about eating well, about treating each other with respect and about being as educated as you can possibly be, staying away from drugs and leading a good life. I think somebody like Sonny Bill extolls the virtues of that.
VW: Obviously Samoa is in the Four Nations later this year but could there be more of an engagement between these Pacific Island national teams - off the back of what we saw at the World Cup - and some of the top teams like New Zealand and Australia? They get a match against them at a World Cup every four years and occasionally in the Four Nations every two years if you're lucky there but these countries are really crying out for more top-level test matches.
DS: Look I think this isn't about any specific item. I think increasingly as the teams become more competitive and particularly with the World Cup there's going to be more international matches, but we brought Papua New Guinea into the Intrust Super Cup this year in Queensland and there's talk about other Pacific nation clubs coming into our competition as well. What you will see is, over the next few years, a big push for just different forms of content for inclusion of the Pacific Islands both at international level and hopefully increasingly at a club level as well. As we build the pathways and we start to be a bit more structured, as well as the community programmes then it should result in more opportunity, and of course the World Cup is a big opportunity. We haven't decided where we're going to play the matches yet so it's a big opportunity for us.
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