New children's book showcases Mate Ma'a Tonga's impact

A new children's book featuring the popular Mate Ma'a Tonga rugby league team is to be released this year on Tongan Language Week.

"The Rise of the To'a" is co-authored by two teachers in Auckland, 'Alisi Tatafu and David Riley, and it follows the journey of a young Tongan boy learning about Tongan culture.

Intertwined through the chapters are short stories of each of the 33 rugby league players from the 2017 to 2019 squad.

The team is currently ranked fourth in the world. In 2017, Mate Ma'a Tonga, or MMT for short, had their most successful campaign, becoming semi-finalists at the Rugby League World Cup.

The highlight of the tournament was an upset win over New Zealand 28-22, after trailing 16-2 at half-time, marking the first time a tier-two team had defeated a tier-one team.

Due to the team's outstanding performance at the World Cup, on the 29 November 2018, King Tupou VI declared a public holiday in Tonga called Mate Ma'a Tonga Day, and the entire squad was invited to the Royal Palace and acknowledged for their contribution to sports.

'Alisi Tatafu was the MC for the Mate Ma'a Tonga welcome ceremony in Auckland for the RLWC, which attracted large numbers.

"I was fortunate enough to travel with the team for nine of their games in 2017 and it was then when I thought, I need to write a book about Tonga and this team.

"I wanted this book to be a tribute to Tongan culture and the Tongan rugby league players who showcased our culture beautifully to the world with their success in the game," she said.

"This is a team that unified Tongans from around the world. Our flags started appearing everywhere from Paris to San Francisco to Wellington and Brisbane."

Ms Tatafu said she was blessed to have witnessed the passion the players had for not only the game, but for their country.

"The players really fed off the energy from their family, friends and community."

David Riley is a teacher and a writer, with a goal of making reading attractive for young people and to inspire them with stories from New Zealand and the Pacific.

"I teach students who are from Pacific backgrounds and I have noticed that majority struggle to find reading enjoyable and when you look at the books that are out there, a lot of them are not relatable or topics of interest for the students.

"By including the story of MMT in this book will hopefully grab the attention of new readers," he said.

"I live in Ōtara and what I am starting to see are young kids looking up to the Tongan rugby league players as their heroes as opposed to the All Blacks."

Mr Riley initially thought he was writing a book about rugby league, but he was surprised to find that there was more behind the men in red and white jerseys.

"I learnt a lot from this book and what makes MMT so popular and it all comes down to how embedded the culture is in every Tongan through centuries of heritage being passed down. I know many Tongans would appreciate this book." he said.

Former Mate Ma'a Tonga captain Sika Manu is the illustrator of the book.

"I am related to Sika and he had asked me to MC his wedding. During the planning of the wedding, I learnt from his wife that Sika loves to draw and that he is an illustrator." Ms Tatafu said.

"I am so excited for this book to be released into the Pacific community and for everyone to see Sika's talented work.

"This is not just a book for children, but one that can be shared and read by the whole family."