Sunday’s Telstra Premiership Grand Final between the Broncos and Cowboys is not only dividing Queensland but also the tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
The historic all-Queensland Grand Final will be played in front of an expected sell-out crowd of 83,000 at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium while millions more will tune in across 100 countries to see who will lift the Provan-Summons Trophy in 2015.
The blistering speed that saw Justin O’Neill score twice for the Cowboys in their Preliminary Final win over the Storm is largely attributed to his mother Nicole who hails from Santo and represented Vanuatu in the 100 and 200 metres at the South Pacific Games.
O’Neill has twice tasted grand final success previously at the Olympic Stadium, winning the 2012 NRL title with the Storm as well as under-20s premiership with Melbourne in 2009.
But O’Neill is not the only person involved on grand final day with strong ties to Vanuatu Rugby League.
Broncos high performance manager Jeremy Hickmans has played a key role working with and mentoring VRL’s head of high performance, Brett Wright, who has also trained a number of other national teams and was a coach for Vanuatu at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“It is fantastic to know we have Vanuatu connection on both sides of NRL’s biggest game,” said Vanuatu Rugby League president Tom Carlo.
“On one side we have a fantastic role model in Justin O’Neill and on the other side Jeremy Hickmans who is doing a lot behind the scenes for the VRL and providing Brett Wright with some fantastic professional development opportunities.
“Through the VRL connection, twice Brett has been given opportunities to spend time working with Jeremy at the Broncos and learn from the best.
“Not only will Brett be able to bring back what he has learnt to the VRL but it will also benefit Vanuatu sport as a whole where Brett can impart that knowledge to the other national and Olympic teams and athletes he works with.”
While NRL commitments and injuries have prevented O’Neill from making his debut for Vanuatu he has given up his time to act as a trainer and mentor younger players in the past.
When he makes his debut he will be the second O’Neill after older brother Paul to play for Vanuatu and it is expected the youngest brother Samsen will also debut in the coming years.
After Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu earlier this year the fledgling rugby league community has struggled to re-establish playing opportunities for keen footballers eager to channel their energies into rugby league.
The NRL and Queensland Rugby League were both significant contributors to UNICEF’s Vanuatu appeal in April and the VRL are determined to proceed with the annual clash between the Port Vila Fire Ants and Santo Boars in November.
The VRL is on the lookout for sponsors for both teams and the event and any interested parties should contact VRL President Tom Carlo on +678 711 5275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow the VRL, Fire Ants and Boars on Facebook.