6 Sep 2018

Sport: Tonga embrace chance to challenge the best

1:03 pm on 6 September 2018

Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says confirmation they will play both Australia and New Zealand is an important step in the overall growth of the international game.

Mate Ma'a Tonga will face the Kangaroos at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium on October 20 before a long-awaited rematch against the Kiwis in June.

Kristian Woolf has been vocal about the need to play more tests against tier one nations, off the back of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, and said a chance to play the world champions for the first time ever is just reward for players who have sacrificed a lot to represent the Kingdom.

"I'm really really glad that common sense and a lot of hard work from a lot of people has prevailed and the game is going to go ahead," he said.

"I've mentioned before (Australia coach) Mal Meninga's been a big supporter and big pusher of it for a very long time and I need to throw the NRL on the back of Todd Greenberg into that equation as well because to make the game happen he's essentially stood in and said that it's going to happen and this is how we think we're going to make it happen."

Mate Ma'a Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf.

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

New Zealand Rugby League initially objected to the Australia vs Tonga game being played in their backyard, fearing it could overshadow the Kiwis vs Kangaroos clash at the same venue a week earlier, however, following talks with the NRL, an agreement was reached.

"Obviously they had a stance that it wasn't something they wanted to happen but it's terrific from them to look a little bit broader and make the occasion happen and we're looking forward to a really good relationship with them going forward as well with some great opportunities," Woolf said.

"It means if you're going to be a Tongan player and commit to Tonga that you actually know you've got meaningful games and some real challenges and something to commit to," he said.

"If we're going to continue to grow the international game then that's exactly what not only we need but teams like Samoa and Fiji and PNG, who are at the forefront of the Pacific growth at the moment, we all need opportunities to play first and foremost.

"That's how you create other opportunities, in terms of financially being able to look after it and that kind of thing as well."

Manu Vatuvei, (right), and Australian international Jake Trbojevic announce the much anticipated match up

Manu Vatuvei, (right), and Australian international Jake Trbojevic announce the much anticipated match up Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Players from Tonga and Australia will also receive the same fee for playing in next month's historic test month's test, after the Kangaroos team agreed to take a one-off pay cut.

"It's the first time ever that the conditions are going to be the same and that's a massive win for everybody," Kristian Woolf said.

"And I've got to applaud Todd Greenberg, Mal Meninga, the Australian players to make that kind of decision. It's not one that they had to make but they obviously want the game to go ahead and they're obviously interested in helping international footy and see this as a way of doing that.

"That can't be applauded enough and on the other side it is a sacrifice our players have always made."

Getting Jason Taumalolo to play for the Kiwis rather than Tonga must be a priority for the new Kiwis coach says Tony Kemp.

Jason Taumalolo chose Tonga over New Zealand. Photo: Photosport

With little more than six weeks until kick-off Kristian Woolf said initial interest from sponsors has been strong while he's already received a number of messages from players eager to be involved.

"It's going to be a real challenge for us, obviously. They're a terrific footy team, they're the best in the world and they're the benchmark," he said.

"They've got a couple of games leading into it which we're not going to get but at the end of the day we've made it clear that we want this opportunity so it's up to us to go out there and back it up and perform."

Tongan fans turned out in force at Mount Smart Stadium during the Rugby League World Cup.

Tongan fans turned out in force at Mount Smart Stadium during the Rugby League World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT