Tonga the key to NZRL’s fortunes
Mate Ma’a Tonga might have become the key to the New Zealand Rugby League’s financial future.
It’s a scenario no one could have imagined, even a few years ago, but it’s about to become reality.
Tonga — and their incredible, emotional patriotic support — will give the Kiwis what they have dreamed of for the past decade when visits by the Kangaroos to this side of the Tasman began to be an extremely rare event.
The bonus is regular matches on home soil that attract large public and media interest and big crowds.
It’s no secret the NZRL have struggled financially for the past five years. It’s not easy to attract corporate support and sponsors aren’t lining up when you don’t have much content on display in the local market.
Last night’s game with the Kangaroos was only the fourth transtasman clash in New Zealand this decade. Aside from the 2014 Four Nations and last year’s World Cup, the Kiwis have barely been sighted on home soil, mainly because the NZRL haven’t been able to stomach the financial risk.
Tonga could change all that. Imagine an annual clash with the Kiwis in Auckland every year.
It’s pure tribalism at its best and would become New Zealand’s version of the State of Origin concept.
“We are very hopeful that something like that could happen,” Tonga coach Kristian Woolf told the Herald on Sunday.
“There has been a lot of work behind the scenes and all of the parties involved want to come up with something to make it work.”
Tonga sold out all three of their matches here in last year’s World Cup (versus Samoa and the Kiwis in Hamilton, and against England in the semifinal in Auckland) and the house full signs will be up again next Saturday against the world champion Kangaroos.
That match will be massive, but just imagine the interest when the long anticipated second chapter of the haka versus the Sipi Tau comes about in June next year.
It will go through the roof and is at atmosphere which can only get better year on year.
That’s massive for the NZRL. Suddenly they could have an annual match that is a financial bonanza, and something they can leverage off with all kinds of commercial opportunities.
There has been a lot of work behind the scenes and all of the parties involved want to come up with something to make it work.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf
It’s vital income for a code that struggled to generate much. In time, there might even be room for a second Kiwis v Tonga clash at the end of the year, although no one would want to milk the fixture to the point of overkill.
If Samoa and Papua New Guinea can continue to develop, the Kiwis may have other viable games in the region, sandwiched around the annual clash with the Kangaroos and frequent games with England.
It paints a rosy future for the sport, especially given the game had reached rock bottom with the performance at the World Cup last year and all of the other issues around it, revealed by the subsequent review.
Tongan celebrations are good for New Zealand.