Victoria will have plenty to cheer for at this year’s Rugby League World Cup, with Maleyna Hunapo trading in the red and green jersey of the Truganina Rabbitohs for the green and white of the Cook Islands.
Born in New Zealand, Hunapo has the chance to represent her dad’s home island of Penrhyn, an opportunity she isn’t taking for granted.
“It means a lot to me especially since Cook Islands is such a small nation and it’s where my dad is from, so it just means so much to make him proud,” Hunapo said.
“My family has always believed in me so when they found out I’d made the squad, they were all so excited and especially for my dad, it meant a lot to him that I was able to represent the Cook Islands on the international stage.”
“I think I might have a free pass anytime I get in trouble for the next little while, I can always just remind him that I went to a World Cup representing his home nation!”
The 23-year old played an instrumental role in the Truganina Rabbitoh’s run to the Women’s First Grade Grand Final this season, playing in 12 games where she scored 4 tries and converted 18 goals.
The Truganina Rabbitohs half said that initiatives like the RISE program have been key in ensuring she’s in the best shape both physically and mentally in the lead up to the tournament.
“I don’t think the gravity of the occasion has fully sunk in yet but I think once the squad meets up in Sydney it might hit me but at the moment I’m trying to focus on myself, prepare both mentally and physically before we leave.”
“Luckily for me I’ve had programs like the RISE program that have kept me on my toes, as they’re constantly giving us training modules to do and that’s kept my fitness levels up.”
Having represented Victoria at the Women’s National Championships over the past two years, Hunapo said that the experience she has gained in the state setup has her primed to deal with the demands of a World Cup.
“Representing Victoria at the National Championships has really helped me in my preparation, as I’ve gotten used to fitting into a professional setup and I’m well equipped to handle the travel and pressures that stepping up to international footy will bring.”
A ball-playing half with a clinical kicking game, Hunapo will be hoping she can replicate her strong form in the domestic competition onto the international stage, with the Cook Islands set to take on Australia, New Zealand and France in the group stage.
“It’s not going to be easy but I trust in my coaching staff and all my teammates, it’s obviously going to be a big game against the likes of Australia and New Zealand but we just need to focus on our own game and prepare the best we can,” she said.
Hunapo said she was humbled by the opportunity to be a role model for the next generation of female rugby league talent in both the Cook Islands and Victoria.
“Especially for the girls back home in the islands, hopefully it gives them a little push, give them someone to aspire to and hopefully it can help grow rugby league in the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia and even Victoria itself,” she said.
“It’s been a little tricky having to juggle playing commitments with work but it all comes down to sacrifice and if you want it enough, sometimes you have to sacrifice something to make that dream a reality.”
“Anyone can do it, if you put your mind to it and work hard, you can achieve anything you want in the game.”
“If the opportunity is there and you’re committed enough, then you’ve just got to go for it.”