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Wests Tigers to watch at Pacific Championships

Stefano Utoikamanu and Kezie Apps will be among the Wests Tigers stars in action this weekend at the inaugural Pacific Championships.

Both players will feature in the highly anticipated double-header in Townsville on Saturday to launch the post-season tournament. 

Apps will pull on the green and gold for a 14th time when she lines up against the Kiwi Ferns and two of her Wests Tigers teammates, Leianne Tufuga and Najvada George

Wests Tigers Co-captain Kezie Apps at last year's Women's World Cup
Wests Tigers Co-captain Kezie Apps at last year's Women's World Cup

The veteran forward and Wests Tigers NRLW Co-captain says it’s always an honour to represent her country, something she’s been doing now for a decade.

“Representing your country is the highest honour in our game and I’m so proud to have again been selected,” said Apps.

It’s great that we have so many girls from our inaugural Wests Tigers team playing at these championships.

Kezie Apps

"I’m so happy for all of us.”

Tufuga has been named on the wing after playing at left centre in all nine games in Wests Tigers’ inaugural NRLW season, while George will come off the bench as a middle forward.

Utoikamanu has also made mention of his Wests Tigers teammates, ahead of his international debut. 

The 23-year-old prop will suit up in blue for the second time this season, after making his NSW Origin debut in June.

It should be a blockbuster clash between these two teams, eleven months after they met in last year’s World Cup at Old Trafford.

“In terms of representative honours, it’s been a good year for me, but it’s only come about because of the help I’ve had from my club teammates,” Utoikamanu said.

Stefano’s mother and both her parents were born in Samoa, making this debut a special occasion for the family

“I’m so excited and very proud to represent Samoa and my family,” he said.

I’ll have a bit of a break after this but I can’t wait to get stuck into training and having a really strong 2024 pre-season.

Stefano Utoikamanu

Manly-bound centre Tommy Talau has been named as part of an extended bench alongside Wests Tigers' teammate Justin Matamua.

Sunday will see another double-header, in Port Moresby, when Samoa tackles Fiji in the women’s event before PNG locks horns with Cook Islands.

Pauline Piliae-Rasabale will start at five-eighth for Fetu Samoa after strong first season in the NRLW.  Wests Tigers teammate Christian Pio is unavailable for this match having returned to Sydney for family reasons.

Former Wests Tigers hooker Rua Ngatikaura, who was part of the club’s top-30 squad this season, will start in the No. 9 jersey for Cook Islands in the men’s game.

Wests Tigers fans will have to wait until the second weekend of the Pacific Championships to see their 2023 Player of the Year, Jahream Bula in action. 

The livewire fullback will make his international debut in a very strong Fiji side against Cook Islands in Port Moresby.

“I’m really excited and honoured to represent Fiji for the first time, it’s special for me and for my family.” Bula said.

It’s been a crazy first year in the NRL for me and I owe so much to my Wests Tigers teammates for helping get to this point.

Jahream Bula

“I can’t wait to run out in Port Moresby next weekend, and I’m sure I will learn a lot from this experience.”

Also playing for Fiji from Wests Tigers 2023 squad is Brandon Wakeham and Apisalome Saukuru.

Isaiah Papali’i will have his first hit-out in what promises to be a belter of a match when New Zealand takes on Samoa next weekend at Eden Park. 

It will see ‘Ice’ line up against his Wests Tigers teammate Utoikamanu, and possibly Matamua and Talau well.

“It’s always an honour to represent my country and I’m stoked to be playing again for the Kiwis,” said Papali’i.

“We’ve got a very strong squad and I know pretty much all of the guys really well.

I’ll be representing not just my country and my family but Wests Tigers as well.

Isaiah Papali'i

There will be several Wests Tigers players in action at Eden Park next weekend as part of a triple-header which includes a men’s game between New Zealand ‘A’ and Tonga ‘A’.

Tonga women’s team, which includes Wests Tigers NRLW forward Folau Vaki, will play its first game of the tournament against New Zealand.

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Wests Tigers respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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