The club hosted a breakfast on Tuesday to celebrate Fiji Day, which featured the Fiji Consulate General in Sydney, Zarak Khan, various community leaders, pastors, reverends and key personnel and elders in the Fijian community in New South Wales and throughout Australia.
The Sharks Head of Strategy and Growth, Jonathan Prosser, said over half their playing squad was of Pasifika heritage, while the NRL is forecasting about 62 percent of players by 2020 will have links to the Pacific.
He said the club is making a concerted effort to engage with Pacific nations and communities.
“We want to make sure that we build up a really strong understanding of the cultural nuances between different nations (and people from) different backgrounds,” he said.
“So that we can be the club of choice for people in Fiji, so that we can be the club of choice in the wider Pacific and we can be the club of choice here in New South Wales in Australia”.
The Sharks hosted a diplomatic forum earlier this year, including representatives from Fiji, and ran a discussion on how sport can be an enabler for diplomacy, for the building of stronger relationships and friendships between nations at a government level, at a trade level and a community and grassroots level.
Mr Prosser said the club have liased with the NRL’s Head of Pacific Strategy, former Toa Samoa international Frank Puletua, and was working in partnership with the Core Group, led by two women of Fijian heritage, in their efforts to better engage with Pacific communities, which have included building out a Pasifika homestay programme.
“Often some of the young, aspiring superstars that come over from Pacific nations to stay in our area, to trial and move up through our squads, often they find it hard to settle in and get used to Australian and Sydney life,” he said.
“So we’ve been building out a network of communties of families, who are not necessarily all Pacific people themselves but are people who are very open to learning about Pacific culture.
“Who spend time with the Core Group and with our player wellbeing and education management to really understand the nuances, differences of culture and how they can really create that true home environment that’s going to enable a young person to really thrive”.
The Sharks were also recognised recently by the New South Wales Council for Pacific Communities for their work in the diplomatic sector.
“(Toa Samoa international) Sam Tagataese was one of the NRL stars present that night (at the Council’s annual awards dinner) and he turned around at one point and he looked at the three trophies on the table,” recalled Prosser.
“I’m obviously paraphrasing but he said something along the lines of, “wow this is not only very special to see an NRL club playing in this space and being recognised for it.
“He said, “I’ve been in the NRL over 12 years and I’ve been through some stuff, I’ve seen some different things but this is my club”. You could just sense that real pride and that sort of gave that special feeling again of encouraging to say yes we’re doing some good stuff here so let’s keep going”.
Jonathan Prosser said the Sharks plan to hold more events like their Fiji Day breakfast in future and have put together a calendar of key events from neighbouring nations.