18 Jun 2019

Sport: Sea of red as Tonga fans gather to support league team

2:12 pm on 18 June 2019

Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium was turned into a sea of red yesterday afternoon as passionate Mate Ma'a Tonga Rugby League fans braved the rain for a chance to meet their heroes ahead of their match against the Kiwis on Saturday.

The team is currently ranked fourth in the world thanks to its consistent form since the historic victory against New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup.

Their rise in the world rankings has earnt the Mate Ma'a Tonga more games, they will be playing Great Britain in Waikato in October and Australia in November at Eden Park.

But right now, the team is focused on the Kiwis who have chosen an experienced squad for Saturday featuring the likes of Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran.

Tonga is missing at least of its own stars for the match, but the coach Kristian Woolf says his players are ready for any challenge and can't wait for Saturday.

"It's a big game for our blokes and they are very excited about it and it's a big game for both teams. So, you know I don't need to encourage them to go out there with energy. I know everyone is going to go out there with some energy and everyone is going to rip into each other," said Kristian Woolf.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's veteran playmaker Benji Marshall said it was hard to explain how much it means to him to get another crack in the Kiwis jersey.

After a seven-year absence from the New Zealand team - the 27 test half makes his return to international league for this weekend's game against Tonga in Auckland.

Marshall, who is 34, said he doesn't feel like a veteran.

"When you have been out for so long and you come back you know it is easy to look back on a lot of things, but I am just embracing it. I am just so stoked to be here man honestly. It is sort of like a dream come true. Like I am making my debut again you know? It's been awesome yeah," Benji Marshall said.

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