The Tonga Australian Football Association (TAFA) was founded on Australia Day (Jan 26) 2003 when Australian expatriates Tim Valente and Mark Korsten became involved in a vicious bragging competition. It was settled the next day at 7am with severe hangovers at Teufaiva (pronounced "TAFA FOREVER") Stadium.
A truce was called at approximately 7:12am, but not before a couple of hard-case pipehittin' Tongan's had come out of the stands with back-to-front baseball caps, goofy grins and a mouthful of "What gives man!"
Ten minutes later Tim and Mark had them up to speed on drop punts. Twenty minutes later they were slotting bananas from the boundary. By the 30 minute mark they were finishing off with one of those Buddah Hocking finger waves to the empty stands.
The talent was obvious and still is. That was week one. In the subsequent weeks they came sometimes, gave it a miss others, but always had a good time. Each time they came back they brought their mates and brothers and numbers grew steadily.
In March 2004 the first Tongan played in a National Team. Sila Va'enuku, also a reasonable Rugby Union player, was invited to play with the Tongan expatriate community in the Multicultural Cup in Melbourne, Australia.
Tonga did reasonably well winning its first pool match comfortably, but losing the second match to traditional rival Samoa by a small margin. This was obviously a bit disappointing, but it was great to get the Tongan expat community on board and demonstrate Pacific talent.
Participation numbers are encouraging after just a couple of solid years. Five high schools are now involved with primary schools active too, providing around 150 junior players. The main emphasis is on the 12 - 14 year olds, but players across the system range from 5 to 35.
Tonga were winners of the 2009 U16 AFL Oceania Cup and runners up in 2010, with the bulk of the squad has progressing from junior development programs.
Popularity in the game has also grown tremendously since former rugby player Israel Folau joined new AFL club the Greater Western Sydney Giants in 2010.
The Tigers had to withdraw from the 2008 competition, so they had few expectations coming into their first International Cup.
For a small Pacific island nation that only began playing Australian football a few short years ago, it was a hugely successful tournament. With a couple of convincing wins and a few close calls against top-ranked teams, the fledgling football side is likely to feature prominently in future International Cups.