The women’s World Cup in France is set to expand to 16 nations in 2025, double the current number, with the likes of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji set to come under consideration for tournament entry.
Tonga is the fourth most represented nation in the NRLW this season, however there is no official national women’s side under the Tonga National Rugby League governing body.
A Tongan women’s side last played against Niue in 2020 under a newly formed women’s board but prior to that the nation hasn’t featured in a game since the 2008 World Cup.
Taufa was born in Tonga while Penitani’s father Solomon was of Tongan descent with the pair joining the likes of Filomina and Fatafehi Hanisi, Yasmin Meakes, Shirley Mailangi, Tegan Dymock and China Polata eligible to wear the red jersey.
“There are 48 per cent of NRLW players with Pacifica backgrounds so there is a really strong tie there between the islands, Australia and the NRLW,” Penitani said.
“I think it is only fitting to expand the World Cup in 2025 and give a lot of those players involved in the game the opportunity to pull on a home jersey.
“It will give those smaller islands like Tonga and Samoa the platform to build the game.
“I was born in Australia and my mum has Australian heritage so I am really grateful to represent Australia but if given the opportunity I would absolutely love to pull on a red jersey and play for Tonga to represent my dad's side of the family in the future.”
For Taufa, who last represented Australia alongside Penitani in 2019, she has seen the progression the men’s national side has made with Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita leading the way.
“It has inspired so many young kids back home to be just like them,” Taufa said.
“For me I would like the girls in Tonga to also have that pathway, to realise there are Tongan girls making it here in Australia in the NRLW or at a World Cup.
“It’s a bit hard at the moment because a lot of us don’t know the proper channels to coordinate all that.
“I know from previous chats with players from New Zealand with Tongan heritage that they were interested in possibly building a team in the women’s space.
“I’ve always said I’ll never say never when it comes to representing my Tongan heritage. It’s just about trying to work out where to start.
“I think once we start engaging with the right people and having those conversations it will go a long way.”
Taufa went to Tonga in 2018 as part of the NRL's Voice Against Violence program and along with Penitani have been vocal in the NRL’s recent Tonga Relief appeal.
“In Tonga it’s very traditional, it’s rare you’ve got girls playing sport. The closest you’ll get is netball.
“But rugby league is being slowly introduced to schools and while it’s only really in the public systems, we want that to grow into the private system.
“They still have the old school mentality that we’re trying to change… that stay home, cook and clean mindset.
“We have the platform to make those changes.”
Fifita urged Taufa and her Tongan teammates to begin the journey of building an international team as soon as they can.
“I have talked to Simaima personally about it,” Fifita said.
“We were studying together when doing our welfare [course] and I have always said to her I know who you are and I know how good you are so for her to go and start the path I think a lot of people would jump on because you saw the reaction when we did it.
“I know she is trying to grow the NRLW and I know playing for Australia is the pinnacle at the moment but whilst she is in her prime why not do it now.
“I can honestly say it is the best thing I ever did and personally I know Jason says exactly the same thing.
“To do it not only for our people but for the game in general, it was the best thing we ever did, he said.
Eels centre Tiana Penitani speaks at the NRL's multicultural round launch in Belmore on Tuesday.©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos