Richmond Next Generation Academy graduate Pala Kuma has taken the next step in his football career, signing a contract with the Club's VFL side.

It's an exciting progression for the 19-year-old who grew up in Tonga, and the culmination of "years of hard work". 

"I'm relieved and happy...I'm keen for the season," Kuma said.

"We were all sitting in the team meeting and I didn't have a clue what was going on... It was announced that a few boys had signed, and to my surprise, I was one of them.


"(My family) was so happy. I started playing footy in 2018 so they were so happy to see how far I've come and the hard work I've put in finally paying off."

The explosive shutdown defender, who has a rugby background, joined Richmond's NGA in 2018 when he moved to Australia as a 13-year-old.

From there, he spent time with the Tigers' VFL side and learnt from AFL mentors, while playing for the Robinvale-Euston Football Netball Club in the Sunraysia region.

Known for his tackle pressure and speed, Kuma played for the Bendigo Pioneers in the Coates Talent League last year, as he gave himself every chance of becoming a footballer.

He was a worthy recipient of the inaugural David Meade Scholarship from the Pioneers, which was awarded to a player who displayed consistency in preparation, competitiveness, diligence, relationships, and planning.

Fittingly, Kuma traveled with Richmond's AFL team to last week's Community Camp in Mildura, relishing the opportunity to head back to the region.

"I'm so happy to come back to where it all started and bring back some memories," he said.

"We flew down and did a few school visits in the area, I went to my old school and said hi.... a few Q&As with the kids and some Auskick."

Kuma is now one step closer to his ultimate goal, being signed onto an AFL list. As he works towards his dream, he hopes to inspire budding Pacific Islander footballers along the way.

"I know there's a lot of talented Pacific Islanders out there... Them seeing us in the system, hopefully that brings out their motivation to make it far in the sport of AFL," he said.

"Coming from Tonga, I think there would be a lot of kids who would be more motivated into going after a sports career.

"We don't get as much opportunity as in Australia, so to be drafted one day would be a massive outcome not only for me but for the islands as well."

Richmond's NGA program introduces the game of Australian Rules to boys and girls from 5-18 years of age who come from Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds where they may not have been exposed to the sport before.