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Growing the  Asian flavour in representative rugby league

Klese Haas played for the Philippines Tamaraws in last year’s inaugural Asian Football Festival, and after this season establishing himself in the NRL, the Titans forward will remain involved by running water for the nation’s development team in Saturday’s event at Logan’s Metro Sports Centre.

Haas is one of a growing number of high profile players of Asian heritage in the NRL and NRLW, with Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who has Laos heritage, coming within one vote of claiming the Dally M Medal as the best and fairest player of the year.

This year's Dally M halfback of the year winner Shaun Johnson is one of a growing number of high profile Asian heritage rugby league players.
This year's Dally M halfback of the year winner Shaun Johnson is one of a growing number of high profile Asian heritage rugby league players. ©NRL Images

Other players include Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii who has Cambodian heritage, Brian To’o, Siua Wong and Gordon Chan Kum Tong who all have Chinese heritage and Klese's brother Payne Haas who has featured for Philippines representative teams in the past.

"It was really fun, we had boys from some boys from Philippines, some boys from Sydney and from up here, so it was really good to get with the boys," Haas told earlier this year when asked about his experience playing at the Asian Footy Festival.

"There was a lot of skill shown in the game against Thailand, it was really good … I loved being part of it and I didn't expect it to be that big, it was a mad turn out."

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The Philippines Sampaguitas women’s team – who have been captained by recently retired St George Illawarra hooker Renee Targett – have also climbed their way no. 14 in the world in the latest IRL World Rankings.

They will be in action this weekend as well at the tournament supported by the QRL, facing off against an Asian United team featuring players of mixed heritage including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Laotian backgrounds. 

Asian Footy Festival event organiser Dominic Morton said that following on from a successful launch tournament last year, this year was more focused on development to help players with fewer opportunities than normal to represent their heritage.

“Philippines Admirals is the fringe players getting an opportunity to press for (Tamaraws) selection in the upcoming match against Malta in Sydney later this month, while the Mekong team is made up of players that weren't selected in the Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia teams," Morton said.

"This allows those players to still represent their culture proudly, even though they don’t have enough players yet to make a full squad of their own country.

“This is also the case for the Asian United women’s team which was a brainchild of us at Asian Rugby League Development.

"Our goal over last 12 months was to make an all-Asian women’s team outside of the Philippines to help identify women playing the game from all Asian countries and give them an opportunity to do their country and heritage proud.”

Renee Targett in action for the Dragons.
Renee Targett in action for the Dragons. ©NRL Images

The first of the day’s four matches will kick off from 10am (AEST) with a charity match, with the emerging nations development game between the Philippines Admirals and the Mekong Dragons the second match of the day at 11.30am.

“As for Klese, I have to say that I have nothing but the highest admiration for him, he is always coming to our training sessions when he is available and always wanting to help,” Morton said.

The Philippines Sampaguitas will take on the Asian United Women’s team at 1pm, with the day to conclude with a match between the Thailand Naga and Indian Jungle Cats.


Acknowledgement of Country

Gold Coast Titans proudly acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are situated, the Kombumerri families of the Yugambeh Language Region. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and recognise their continuing connections to the lands, waters and their extended communities throughout South East Queensland.