27 Jul 2020

Tonga hopeful of Kiwis rematch before end of year

5:01 pm on 27 July 2020

Tonga remains optimistic another blockbuster rugby league test against the New Zealand could take place later this year.

A keen rivalry has started with the kingdom stunning New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup before the Kiwis enacted revenge in June last year.

Kotoni Staggs (R) looks on as Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith sets up a try for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Tonga and New Zealand are one win a piece in recent times. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The two countries were scheduled to lock horns again last month before the Oceania Cup was delayed because of Covid-19.

Head coach Kristian Woolf said discussions were ongoing but admitted the latest coronavirus flare-ups in Australia might complicate matters.

"If there was a possibility of internationals [this year] that would be the first one I think we'd go to," he said.

"At the moment though, obviously there's been a little bit more drama with the coronavirus in Australia and parts of Australia in particular so I think everything is just a little bit on hold and wait and see at the moment."

Kristian Woolf has coached Tonga since 2014

Kristian Woolf has coached Tonga since 2014 Photo: Photosport

Woolf is also in charge of the reigning Super League champions St Helens, who restart their domestic season this weekend after a 20 week hiatus because of the pandemic.

The former Newcastle Knights assistant coach said having the bulk of the Tongan squad based in Australia and New Zealand helps their chances of organising any games this side of Christmas.

"What it would make it difficult for at this stage is guys like Tui Lolohea, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Konrad Hurrell - and those sorts of guys who have been playing in the Super League - that the Super League season's going to finish relatively late," he said.

"So it's certainly would present some challenges in that sense but if there was some possibility of playing a game at the end of the year then it's certainly something we'd want to be a part of."

Ben Murdoch-Masila playing for Tonga Kau To'a against Great Britain.

Ben Murdoch-Masila playing for Tonga Kau To'a against Great Britain. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Tonga were also scheduled to play the Fiji Bati in October as part of the Oceania Cup and Woolf said a lack of matches is a particularly big blow for Pacific Island nations and their preparations for the 2021 World Cup.

"When you can't play games that takes away your ability to bring in some finances through games and through sponsorship and everything that comes with playing games," he said.

"The Covid situation certainly put a halt to all that and meant that preparations in that sense are certainly on hold at the moment but your organisational preparation and things that need to go on behind the scenes to make sure that we provide a really professional camp outside of how we finance it, those sorts of preparations are ongoing."

Tonga Fans and supporters.
Tonga Invitational XIII v Australia Kangaroos.


With Woolf based in the north of England, former Gold Coast Titans football manager Scott Clark has been leading Tonga off-field operations in the southern hemisphere, including negotiations around potential test matches.

A former Burleigh Bears and Tweed Heads Seagulls CEO, Clark resigned from the Titans in 2015 after forging the signature of star player James Roberts but Woolf said he valued the input of the "very experienced" rugby league administrator who "certainly takes up the majority of the slack now and does a terrific job as well."

A decision was also looming in the off-field battle for control of rugby league in the kingdom.

The Tonga National Rugby League was expelled by the International Rugby League in March but appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Konrad Hurrell tests the Kangaroos defence.

Konrad Hurrell tests the Kangaroos defence. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Two groups have since applied to become Tonga's recognised rugby league governing body at regional and international level, including Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League which had the backing of Woolf and the Tongan players.

"They're an extremely loyal group [of players]," Woolf said.

"I've spoken a number of times about how strong a group of men they are and how good a group of men they are. That's why they're such a good group to support and why the Tongan fans get behind them so much because they really are a group of men that stand for something and lead by their examples.

"They've proven that many a time now."