16 Jul 2018

Sport: Tonga coach gives pass mark to draft calendar

12:37 pm on 16 July 2018

A proposed revamp of the international rugby league calendar appears to be a positive step forward but Pacific teams need to be treated as equals with tier one countries, Tonga coach Kristian Woolf says.

The proposal from the NRL includes a new Oceania Cup to be played next year between New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.

Tonga celebrate a try. Kiwis v Tonga, Rugby League World Cup, Hamilton,  2017.

Tonga celebrate a try during the World Cup pool win over New Zealand. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Two separate Four Nations tournaments could also be played in 2020, with Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa in one and England, France, Fiji and Papua New Guinea in the other.

Kristian Woolf said he was encouraged by last week's announcement, even though he only found out via the media.

"Ourselves and Samoa and Fiji are certainly being considered in how they can be involved in competitions and it certainly appears to have a view to involve us with some of the bigger nations," he said.

"You certainly would like to be a little bit more consulted, that's for sure, but there's certainly a positive there in the fact that we are being considered for those games."

England's James Graham wrapped up by Tonga

England's James Graham wrapped up by the Tongan defence during the World Cup semi final. Photo: Photosport

It was important to ensure the format of any competition was fair and that all teams were treated equally, Woolf said.

"What I wouldn't support is that the Pacific nations all play each other again and the winners play one of your tier one nations - I don't think that's the way forward," he said.

"I think we all need opportunities to play tier one nations on a little bit more regular basis so I'd be very interested to know exactly what format everyone's thinking with it but the initial look at it certainly looks positive in terms of having some opportunity that wasn't there in the past."

Mate Ma'a Tonga consolidated fourth place in the world rankings after beating Toa Samoa in the Pacific Test last month, while Papua New Guinea pipped the Fiji Bati.

Mate Ma'a Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf.

Mate Ma'a Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

There did not necessarily need to be a new competition so long as there was an opportunity for Pacific nations to play regular test matches against Australia, New Zealand and England, Woolf said.

"What we need to get past is just the Pacific Island teams playing each other and thinking that that's a way forward," he said.

"While we all want games and we all respect the fact that if we are playing each other there it certainly gives you opportunity for games. We certainly need opportunities outside of that as well. I think we've all proven that we're very capable of that.

"What rugby league needs at the moment is events and games that are really going to capture the attention of the rugby league public and there's a lot of games that involve Tonga that certainly do that."

The NRL proposal will be presented to the Rugby League International Federation in Singapore later this month, while talks about an end-of-year Test between Australia and Tonga are ongoing with both sides saying they want the match to take place.

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