NRL Western Australia Harmony Cup
Western Australia’s biggest multicultural sporting event kicks off on Friday when more than 1,300 sportspeople gather to take part in the NRL WA’s Harmony Nines Tournament – with more than 60 teams competing for honors over three days at the Port Kennedy Sportsplex.
And for Sera Ah-Sam, it gives her the opportunity not only to represent her Samoan community, but also to perform with her daughter Frieda.
“It means so much to represent your country at an incredible event like this,” said women’s team member Ellenbrook Rabbitohs.
“I’ve played in all of them, it’s getting bigger and better every year.”
Now in its sixth year, the annual rugby league nines event brings together dozens of communities, with youth, men’s and women’s teams adding color and culture to a growing game here in Perth.
Held over four grounds and three days, the Harmony Nines have become a major attraction in the off-season rugby league calendar with teams representing Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Great Britain, several New Zealand Maori cultures as well as Australia and Indigenous Teams.
Rockingham Sharks giant striker Ben Bolth will miss this year due to work commitments, but the proud Cook Islander knows what it’s like to play.
“My dad is half Cook Islander and half Norwegian so I’m very proud to represent his heritage,” Bolth said. “The sense of community is so good. The drums, the food, then there’s football, of course. Other communities think the same.”
Kani Solomon has been part of the North Beach Sea Eagles’ incredible year, reaching the 2022 NRL WA Grand Final.
Hailing from the small town of Levin, about an hour’s drive from Wellington, the proud New Zealander believes the tournament has never been equaled anywhere.
“In my footballing years, I’ve never been into anything bigger or better,” Solomon said. “I’ve played in five of the six tournaments and the cultural elements are amazing. I learned so much about other cultures.
Alkimos Tigers star Corey Broughton starred in the former in 2017.
“At the time, we gathered players from the northern suburbs and formed a team. Some from North Beach, others from Joondalup and Ellenbrook. We had a lot of talent,” said Broughton, who won that first tournament playing for Hawaiki Pamamao.
“I’ve changed to a new Taranaki team this year, and we’re all from the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It brings us together as we celebrate our community and culture around rugby league This is such an awesome event.
“I think the first year there were maybe 10 teams. Now there are over 60. It’s one of my highlights of the year.
NRL star and New Zealand international Clinton Toopi attended the event in 2019.
He was blown away by what it meant for so many people to represent their traditions and cultures.
“It just shows what sport can achieve when everyone comes together,” Toopi said.
“For children born in WA to migrant parents, it gives them insight into their heritage and a chance to be part of it while maintaining their new Australian identity.”
And it’s not just the Kiwi or island communities that bring their traditions with them.
Australia is represented by both the Bushrangers and an incredible indigenous team who in the last two editions have made it to the final playing sparkling football.
The Indian Ocean Territories, representing Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands, will travel to Perth for the event which will see 151 matches played over three days.
Papua New Guinea also deliver, this year with a women’s under-16 team as well as a men’s team, as does the more traditional rugby league nation of Great Britain.
“It’s where the game was founded in 1895, so we have a ton of heritage,” said Great Britain team manager Ed Easter.
“We are actually four legacies, maybe more if you then break down all the regions of the UK.
“England are the bulk of the team, but we have players from Scotland, Ireland and Wales in our squads.”
Easter isn’t shy about pointing out that their culture is also important with new cast members being asked to research and explain their heritage.
“We often have children with Australian accents who have a British parent or grandparent who says ‘My dad is from…’ We had a child who has Cornish heritage, so we had him learn a part of the Cornish language.
“Like all countries in Harmony Nines, it’s important to know where you’re from.”
The Great Britain teams have replica blue heritage signs made from the historic sign which stands outside the George Hotel in Huddersfield, Yorkshire – where the game was founded in 1895 – to offer as a “ cultural gift” to the opposing teams before the matches.
“The AFL and football have no such thing – it’s unique to rugby league,” Easter said.
“It’s something we’re very proud of – all cultures come together for an amazing weekend of sport.”