In a special meeting organised by the Shark’s Strategy and Growth team and the QORE Group, some of the country’s highest ranking diplomats from our neighbouring Pacific Island nations and key trade, diplomacy and community bodies, set new NRL standards for consultation.

Not so much inspired by, as brought into focus by the Sharks Homestay program and the Pacific nation players currently at the club, the event highlighted the Club’s efforts in making a strong contribution to all sections of the community.

In one of the club’s most important community initiatives, the Homestay Program involves local families ‘adopting’ junior players who have moved to the area.

Often those players, and the families that adopt them, have little to no knowledge of the different cultures that are about to collide in their new living arrangements.

Hence the informal yet significant get together of dignitaries and diplomats and those with a link to Pacific Island nations.

“Why are the Sharks stepping into diplomacy or foreign affairs? Well it’s because we are more than just a football club. And it’s because we recognise and value and take a great appreciation for the Pacific neighbouring nations where many of our players come from,” said Jonathan Prosser, the Sharks General Manager Strategy & Growth.

“Fifty percent of the Sharks squad has Pasifika heritage, so today is about offering a hand of friendship to the diplomats and trade bodies that are present today, and saying we as the Sharks really welcome you and want to build really meaningful relationships,” Prosser added.  

The list of honourable guests included the High Commissioner and Consul-General of Fiji, The Consul-Generals of New Zealand and PNG, a representative of the High Commission of Tonga, the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission, the NSW Council for Pacific Communities and the Lowy Institute.

Diplomacy, welfare, trade, pathways, professional development and player sponsorship, as well as key stats were discussed, all in an effort to continue the Sharks vision for taking the club forward and to better understanding the culture of players with Pacific Island heritage.

Statistics suggest the number of NRL players from Pacific heritage is 48 per cent, while in the Under 20’s competitions the numbers are slightly higher, with the Sharks proud to state that around 50 per cent of their players have Pacifica heritage. Astounding figures when the Pacific community in Australia amount to only 0.7 per cent of total population.

This prompts the need to ensure player education and welfare is specifically catered to individuals from all countries and cultures, while the necessary support systems and networks are in place.

The discussions with members of the Pacific community were then designed as a sounding board for innovative ideas from the Shark’s administration and for input into where the focus could be better directed and how this might happen.

Which relates back to the current Sharks Homestay Program, which sees families in and around the Shire hosting young recruits from country NSW, Queensland, New Zealand and the Pacific nations.

Cronulla Sharks Wellbeing and Education Manager Shane Smith said the program offered many benefits for young players and the families who took them in.

“When these boys come into a new environment it can feel like they’re at home. They get provided that care that they would receive at home from their own families,” Smith said.

“Also what I see are the lessons on life. For most families it’s their home and their own rules. The boys are coming in and these families are opening their house up to them but the boys still need to abide by their rules.

“For most boys they get educated in all different fields like getting a driver’s licence, opening a bank account, learning to save money. It’s lessons on life and coming from the country or from interstate or even from overseas to have that support is a massive thing,” Smith continued.

Such is the bond which is built up most of the Homestay families go to watch their ‘adopted’ sons play, while siblings often connect.

“Some of the boys become big brothers, others little brothers,” Smith said.

Homestay and the families involved are a massive support to the club and to the players in the program.

“They can change someone’s life and see the impact they have on these young boys who always remember them. It doesn’t matter if they go on to first grade or not, it’s the initial outreach that makes the difference,” Smith said.

The club also wants to develop a broader outreach in the community for this year’s program and to get a broader community feel, especially with people with a background from the Pacific nations.

“That cultural connection that can be a big help for some boys. Just having a familiar food on the table can make a big difference.”

The meeting of important minds from Pacific nations and the Sharks efforts to broaden their cultural ties, is further evidence of the Sharks vision to be the club of choice.

The Sharks are gearing up for the season by also including a robust strategy around cultural diversity in line with our overall corporate strategy. This will see the Sharks leading the way for cultural diversity training, paving the way for best practice in this area in the upcoming months.

Note: Any families wanting more information or to become involved with the Sharks Homestay Program, please contact Shane Smith at ssmith@sharks.com.au or Noelani Osueke from QORE Group on 0424 333 026 or via email at noelani@qoregroup.com