Ton­gan stars to turn down Ki­wis

Sunday News - - LEAGUE - MARVIN FRANCE

TONGA coach Kris­tian Woolf has no con­cerns with Michael Maguire try­ing to lure his play­ers back to the Ki­wis, with Woolf con­fi­dent they will be stick­ing with the Mate Ma’a for next month’s Pa­cific Test.

Dur­ing his an­nounce­ment as coach of New Zealand ear­lier this month Maguire said the door was open for the likes of Jason Tau­malolo and David Fusitu’a to re­turn to the Ki­wis jer­sey, de­spite their last-minute switch to play for Tonga at the 2017 World Cup.

With play­ers able to change be­tween tier one and two na­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional rugby league’s el­i­gi­bil­ity laws, there is noth­ing to stop them from swap­ping coun­tries again.

Tau­malolo is yet to con­firm his in­ter­na­tional al­le­giance but the North Queens­land wreck­ing ball is widely ex­pected to re­main with Tonga, while last week War­riors winger David Fusitu’a, the NRL’s joint-lead­ing tryscorer, said he was still com­ing to a de­ci­sion.

Given their tal­ent, Woolf is not sur­prised that Maguire would be so keen to wel­come them back but he is pre­par­ing as if they will be avail­able for the up­com­ing clash against Samoa.

‘‘Michael Maguire is a ter­rific sign­ing for New Zealand. I think he will re­ally strengthen New Zealand rugby league and make them very suc­cess­ful,’’ said Woolf, who is also in charge of Cow­boys feeder club Townsville Black­hawks.

‘‘But it doesn’t re­ally con­cern me be­cause what we built within the group and the bond that the Ton­gan play­ers have be­tween each other, I would be very sur­prised if that team to a man isn’t play­ing to­gether again this year.’’

Woolf said Tonga’s gi­antkilling run to the World Cup semi­fi­nals, which in­cluded an up­set over the Ki­wis, and the phe­nom­e­nal sup­port they re­ceived has prompted more play­ers to put their hand up for the Pa­cific na­tion.

But he fears how long the in­ter­est can be sus­tained if they – and other tier two na­tions – are not given more mean­ing­ful matches.

Tonga is close to fi­nal­is­ing a test against Aus­tralia in Oc­to­ber but at this point, the Samoa clash in Syd­ney is their only con­firmed fix­ture for 2018.

The Ki­wis, mean­while, have six tests sched­uled this year, in­clud­ing four against Eng­land.

Then there is also the mas­sive dis­par­ity in pay­ments be­tween tier one and two na­tions to fac­tor PHOTOSPORT in. It is un­der­stood play­ers from New Zealand, Aus­tralia and Eng­land re­ceived up to $50,000 for the World Cup while their coun­ter­parts from smaller na­tions such as Tonga got by on $30 per diems and min­i­mal match pay­ments.

‘‘I don’t think the de­ci­sion whether they want to play for Tonga is a dif­fi­cult one. What makes it dif­fi­cult is the fact that out­side of Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Eng­land you still don’t have an in­ter­na­tional cal­en­dar,’’ GETTY IM­AGES Woolf said. ‘‘If a player com­mits to Tonga they don’t re­ally know what they are com­mit­ting to ev­ery year. That is cer­tainly some­thing that we are try­ing to change as much as we can.’’

A test against the world cham­pion Kan­ga­roos is a step in the right di­rec­tion.

Woolf said it was ‘‘90 per cent’’ across the line and while Hawaii, Auck­land and even Qatar have been men­tioned as pos­si­ble venues, it will most likely take place in Aus­tralia.

How­ever, the 42-year-old Aus­tralian re­mains frus­trated that they were un­able to se­cure a ‘‘grudge match’’ against the Ki­wis.

The NZRL opted to pur­sue the con­tro­ver­sial Den­ver test against Eng­land for June’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive win­dow. Maguire’s side also host Aus­tralia in Oc­to­ber be­fore a tour of Eng­land and France.

But af­ter Tonga packed out Waikato Sta­dium against the Ki­wis be­fore 30,000, mainly Ton­gan fans, filled Mt Smart for the semi­fi­nal against Eng­land, it is hard not to see it as a missed op­por­tu­nity.

‘‘Those two ex­pe­ri­ences re­ally showed the appetite for in­ter­na­tional rugby league in New Zealand and it cer­tainly showed that Ton­gans are go­ing to sup­port Ton­gans,’’ Woolf said.

Jason Tau­malolo is likely to stick with Tonga.

David Fusitu’a is still com­ing to a de­ci­sion.

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