26 Sep 2019

Sport: Tonga's acting PM enters rugby league stoush

2:42 pm on 26 September 2019

Tonga's acting prime minister has asked the Rugby League International Federation to recognise a new national governing body, potentially paving the way for the return of sacked coach Kristian Woolf.

Tongan MP, Semisi Sika

Tongan MP, Semisi Sika Photo: AFP

Semisi Sika sent a letter to the global administrators, RLIF, saying the country's governing body, Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL), had lost the trust and support of local clubs and Tongan players.

Woolf was sensationally sacked earlier in the month by the TNRL after an increasingly public falling-out over disagreements around control and financial issues.

The TNRL also issued a statement that over $US342,000 was spent from an offshore account during the 2017/2018 financial years without any report.

The TNRL board had been elected this year after a Supreme Court order dissolved the previous administration saying "substantial funds" had not been accounted for.

Woolf had been coaching the Mate Ma'a Tonga since 2014 under the previous TNRL administration and had led the Mate Ma'a Tonga to unprecedented success at the 2017 world cup, including an historic victory over New Zealand.

The popular coach's sacking this month led to a group of players, led by stars Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo, threatening to boycott the team's upcoming internationals against Great Britain and Australia unless he was reinstated, and members of board replaced.

Seemingly out of desperation, the TNRL then announced it had secured the services of controversial former Wallaby Israel Folau, whose contract had been terminated by Rugby Australia over some of his social media posts.

The TNRL said Folau, who had not played rugby league since 2010, and his younger brother John were available to play in the end of year of tests.

However, the RLIF distanced itself from the announcement, saying they had not approved the Folaus' participation, although the TNRL claims their approval is not needed.

A meeting this week was scheduled to discuss the issue in more depth and now will appear to have another item on the agenda with the appeal from Tonga's Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika.

Sika said clubs in Tonga had registered a new federation representing their interests called Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League Incorporated or TMTRL.

In his letter to the RLIF he expressed his government's concern and urged the international body to assist the TMTRL in its work.

Sika was president of the previous TNRL administration.

Saint Helens, the British club where Kristian Woolf will be working from November, has said it would not stand in the way of the Australian-born coach playing a part in Tonga's matches against Great Britain on 26 October and Australia on 2 November if needed.

Mate Ma'a Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf.

Kristian Woolf Photo: PHOTOSPORT

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