8 May 2017

Sport: Attitude and belief drive Tonga to victory

2:40 pm on 8 May 2017

Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says his side's 26-24 victory over Fiji in the Pacific Test would probably not have happened a year ago.

The Mate Ma'a raced out to a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter of an hour at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney, off the back of early tries to Manu Vatuvei and Leilani Latu, but found themselves trailing 18-14 at half-time.

Moses Suli dotted down to put Tonga back in front on the hour mark before Daniel Saifiti responded for the Bati six minutes later.

Injury reduced the Mate Ma'a to 12 fit players by the end of the game but it was Leilani Latu who crashed over from close range in the 78th minute to level the scores, before Ata Hinganao slotted the conversion from in front to complete a dramatic comeback victory.

Kristian Woolf was proud of the way his side dug in and found a way to win.

"Yeah I'm not sure we win that game last year, to be completely honest," he said.

"I think they showed a really sort of tough mentality on the weekend.

"We didn't play our best - there's plenty of things that we could certainly clean up...we probably didn't play as smart as we could.

"But while you've got that sort of attitude and real desire to want to turn up for each other you're certainly in every game with a chance and that's the most important thing."

The Mate Ma'a squad for the Pacific Test v Fiji.

The Mate Ma'a squad for the Pacific Test v Fiji. Photo: Facebook / Tonga National Rugby League

Kristian Woolf said a large chunk of this squad will make up the Tongan team at the Rugby League World Cup later in the year and it was good to have something to look forward to and improve for as a team.

He also praised the impact of new recruits Manu Vatuvei and Will Hopoate, who captained the team.

"They were outstanding those guys. Manu came in a little bit late and from the minute he walked into the team room he came in with a big smile and you could see that it really lit up the room," he said.

"I think the other guys were really happy to have him there as part of the group.

"Will was outstanding as well. He's just a real professional and brought that real professional attitude to everything he did," said Woolf.

That's why we wounded up naming him as the captain and he certainly played that way as well - he's extremely reliable and professional about how he goes about his business."

Kristian Woolf said a number of other players, who were unavailable for the Pacific Test, will come into the selection reckoning for the World Cup but he also wanted to reward players who had been loyal to the Tongan team over the last couple of years.