As the NRL unites to support Tonga in the wake of a deadly tsunami, two stars have spoken of their fears after being unable to call loved ones in the small island nation.
Sydney Roosters star Sitili Tupouniua is anxiously waiting for communications to be restored in Tonga so he can speak to his family and make sure they are safe and well after Saturday’s deadly volcanic eruption.
Around 13 per cent of NRL players identify as being of Tongan descent and many have, like Tupouniua, been left worried about the welfare of family on the small Pacific island.
The 24-year-old Tupouniua spoke exclusively to News Corp, along with Roosters and Tonga teammate Daniel Tupou, about the devastating situation.
“Obviously it’s pretty scary not being able to communicate with anyone with all the communication still down,” Tupouniua said.
“I have family who had to evacuate and it’s been tough not being able to get in touch with them at the moment. We just send all our love and thoughts to them. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon.”
Tupouniua’s revelation comes as the NRL’s Tongan community continue to band together to help those affected by the eruption.
Three-time premiership winner Tupou and Tupouniua are the latest players to join the cause after Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors this week announced the “Unite for Tonga” fundraiser trial match next month, while Broncos star Kotoni Staggs has offered to auction off his round one boots to raise money.
Tupou said the Tongan rugby league community had come together in recent days in support of their family and friends affected by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano.
“It’s been devastating to see the damage caused in Tonga,” Tupou said.
“Everyone in the Kingdom is in our prayers.
“There are quite a few of us of Tongan heritage here at the Roosters, and we’ve started talking about ways we can help raise funds to help those in need.
“Like everyone in the community, we just want to do whatever we can to help.”
Meanwhile, the NRL has reached out to the Australian Government and humanitarian aid organisation UNICEF to see if they can provide any support to the island of 100,000 people.
There was still no means of communication to the island on Wednesday afternoon, with many Australian-based Tongans desperate for news about loved ones back home.
It comes as HMAS Adelaide left Sydney earlier this week, bound for Tonga, to provide humanitarian assistance and support, according to the Australian Defence Force.
RUGBY LEAGUE’S PLAN TO UNITE FOR TONGA
The rugby league community is coming together to support those affected by the devastating Tongan volcano eruption last weekend, with fundraisers and support planned for the coming weeks.
With approximately 13 per cent of NRL players identifying as being of Tongan descent, a number of clubs are planning to host fundraisers and initiatives to support those affected by Saturday’s volcanic eruption.
There are a host of Tongan stars in the NRL, including the nation’s captain Jason Taumalolo at the Cowboys, and multiple premiership winners Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou at the Roosters.
A blockbuster pre-season trial match between the Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors will double as a fundraiser for affected communities while both the NRL and Rugby League Players Association are monitoring the situation and plan to do something in the coming weeks.
Broncos star and proud Tongan Kotoni Staggs has offered to auction off his round one boots and jersey to raise money for the cause.
“Fingers crossed they’re ok,” Staggs said.
“When I heard, I put the phone down and prayed and hoped for the best.
“The pair of boots and jersey I wear for round one will be auctioned off to raise money for the Tongan community.
“If other people want to donate stuff we will find a way to do something with it.
“When everything has calmed down, it would be good for us Tongan boys to go over there and help them build their houses.
“Tongans work hard for everything they’ve got. Maybe we can go over and give them a hand and help them get back to where they were.”
Fellow Bronco Delouise Hoeter had his family home destroyed by Saturday’s events and is waiting for communications to be restored to speak with his family.
“My mum’s family home was absolutely destroyed by the tsunami,” Hoeter said.
“It’s pretty much a waiting game at the moment with all communications down.
“We want to send our love but they can’t receive it.
“We will do whatever we can.”
Both the Storm and Warriors on Tuesday announced the “Unite for Tonga” clash, which will be held on February 19 at Melbourne’s Casey Fields and will include various initiatives for fans to donate to the cause.
At least eight players of Tongan descent feature in both the Melbourne and New Zealand NRL squads, including Felise Kaufusi, George Jennings, Addin Fonua-Blake, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Eliesa Katoa, Taniela Otukolo and Viliami Vailea.
Storm CEO Justin Rodski said the club wanted to help out where it could for those affected by the devastating volcano, which occurred on Saturday.
“Tongans have a proud history in rugby league and with Storm,” Rodski said.
“We are honoured to be able to join with our friends at the Warriors for this special Unite for Tonga match to do what we can to help in this time of need.
“The full details of the destruction and impact of the eruption on the people of Tonga is still unfolding, but we want to make sure we have done our bit to support the island community as they look to rebuild.
“We hope the Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors fans can dig deep to support the initiatives we have in place and that life in Tonga can return to normal as quickly as possible.”
Originally published as Unite for Tonga: Roosters reveal fears for family they can’t contact