As seen on nzherald.

In the sporting world of rugby league and rugby, we are used to seeing the All Blacks’ Barrett brothers or the Savea siblings wreaking havoc on their opponents.

Now the Onesemo-Tuilaepa twins are making moves on the field and are fast becoming names to look out for as they come through the ranks of representative rugby league.

Demielle and Christabelle Onesemo-Tuilaepa, 19, were chosen to represent New Zealand as part of the Ahi Kā Aotearoa squad, who travelled to the Gold Coast last month to play in this year’s Harvey Norman Women’s Championship.

They took on teams representing parts of Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and First Nations.

The sisters took part in this year’s RISE Talent Development Programme – an initiative set up to help better prepare young players for the demands of high-performance environments, with a focus on female players aged 17 to 21 years old.

The talented twins come from a family of 10 and hail from the villages of Lepā and Vavau in Samoa. They began their athletic careers from a young age.

“We played our first rugby game back in 2018, in Savaii, for the girls’ secondary schools rugby competition; then our village rugby team for the Lepā and Lotofaga union,” Demielle said.

“From here, my sister Christabelle and I were the youngest to be named in the Manusina squad at only 14 years old.

“[We] were chosen to play for the New Zealand U18 Barbarians Sevens team in the 2020 World School Sevens Tournament. I believe we were also the youngest on the team.”

‘Our dad had to look for equipment from all parts of Upolu’

Christabelle remembers the days she and her siblings were running around the rugby fields every weekend, helping to set things up before the players arrived.

Their parents are heavily involved in rugby in Samoa and have played at professional level. They describe their mother as a “huge advocate” for women in rugby and has always pushed them to work hard.

“I look back now. My siblings and I used to wake up early on Saturday mornings to help our parents set up the fields for the Atua i Saute Rugby Union in Lepā.”

By 7am, the twins would be at the fields setting up the pole paddings, sideline flags, ice, water and even music for the respective teams. Then after the tournaments, they would wash uniforms or take anyone who was injured to the hospital.

“So to now be the ones playing – I appreciate all the hard work that goes into organising sports tournaments,” Christabelle said.

[The sport] is not popular among Samoan women and the twins did not get to attend many rugby league tournaments because their village is about an hour from Apia.

“I remember that when we first started playing…our dad had to go look for players and equipment from all parts of Upolu, as the resources available were limited,” Christabelle said.

“If equipment was available, it was usually for the men’s team.”

The twins say there is a massive difference in resources. In New Zealand there is a coach, assistant coaches, trainer, manager, physio, wellbeing support, great facilities and gear.

“The establishment of development programmes for both men and women would hugely improve the sustainable development of rugby and sport in Samoa. This is something I would be keen to do in the future,” Christabelle said.

When the twins moved to Aotearoa for better opportunities, they found the environment was completely different from Samoa and they faced some challenges.

“Funny, I didn’t know the rules for my first league [game],” Christabelle laughed.

“My sisters and I were Googling ‘rugby league rules’ in the car on our way to our first rugby league game at Richmond, to learn it quickly.”

Demielle said women’s rugby in New Zealand is well-developed, with many pathways and opportunities for players to develop and succeed, such as the opportunity to represent New Zealand on the Ahi Ka 2024 team.

“It is not light on me that many girls, especially those who I played with in Samoa, do not have the same opportunities to also develop in the league.”

‘Hard work beats talent’

The girls encourage aspiring players to be disciplined and to work hard.

“A quote I live by is: ‘Hard work beats talent’. You can be a talented player but you have to put in the hard work to achieve your dreams and goals,” Demielle said.

Christabelle’s advice is simple: “Remember your why and let that fuel your drive to achieve your dreams.”

The future remains hopeful for the twins as they work toward a professional career in rugby league for the Kiwi Ferns or Black Ferns for rugby union; as well as becoming role models and inspirations for the upcoming generations that want to play league.

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