HAWAII coach Rob Marsom believes it is only a matter of time until the Polynesian island chain begins to rival Samoa, Tonga and Fiji as a nursery for developing NRL players.
Marsom, who was a promising league player in Auckland before accepting an American football scholarship in the mid-1980s, will work alongside Cory Paterson to oversee Hawaii's first representative match against a Queensland Indigenous team in Honolulu today.
Despite the fledgling state of the game in Hawaii, there is plenty of raw talent and two players, fullback Jayson Rego and second-rower Josh Rice, spent this season with the Ipswich Jets. ''The athletic pool in Hawaii is just incredible, and we have got an abundance of Polynesian players of all sizes and abilities,'' Marsom said. ''They just lack knowledge of the game but they really want to learn so who knows, in a few years' time there might be a couple of these boys playing in the NRL or Super League''
With a population of 1.4 million, Hawaii is bigger than Samoa (200,000), Tonga (100,000) and Fiji (850,000) combined and is more developed. Rego, Rice, prop Kelly McGill, five-eighth Anthony Sunia and centre Vai Notoa are all members of the USA Tomahawks team coached by Matthew Elliott, whose appointment at the Warriors next season may lead to a relationship between the New Zealand club and Hawaii.
''I think once people start to see these guys play over here they will realise there is just so much untapped raw talent,'' said McGill, who is the AMNRL's adminstrator in Hawaii. ''We played the Ohana Cup between the Tomahawks and Tonga earlier this year and that was a huge success so we are now trying to develop another series between Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii. That would allow us to continue to develop players and if the Tomahawks wanted somebody or one of the NRL teams wanted somebody they would know they have played international quality matches and they can come over here and have a look.''Hawaii's team also includes former Wests Tigers scholarship holder Les Soliai whose cousin Paul Soliai plays NFL for Miami Dolphins, and Newcastle Knights under 20s lock Byron Fruean. The majority of the squad, including Rego, Rice and McGill, have American football backgrounds, with Marsom's sons, Trendt (Wyoming) and Kyle (Grossmont), having been awarded college scholarships.