Tonga the key to NZRL’s for­tunes

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - Michael Burgess

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.

Photo / Photosport

Ton­gan cel­e­bra­tions are good for New Zealand.

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