Tonga overshadows Kiwis
New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters says the Kiwis’ test against the Kangaroos is the first step towards winning back public support as the match faces the prospect of being overshadowed by Mate Ma’a Tonga’s return to Auckland.
Ticket sales have been slow for Saturday’s triple-header against Australia, which includes the Kiwis Ferns and Junior Kiwis taking on their trans-Tasman rivals.
Peters is anticipating a crowd of about 15,000 at Mt Smart Stadium, while the same venue, with a capacity of 25,600, is close to selling out for Tonga’s clash against the Kangaroos next week.
That would be a disappointing turnout considering this is the first time the Kiwis have hosted Australia on home soil since 2014 – and first in Auckland since 2012.
But after the national team’s struggles on and off the field over the last 18 months, Peters knows it is up to them to get the fans back on side.
‘‘Obviously we would love to have some more [support] and there’s still some really good seats available,’’ Peters told Stuff.
‘‘You’ve got to look at where we are. We’ve come off a pretty rocky year last year and this is the start of a new era under Michael Maguire. We have to earn back the respect of the New Zealand public and that’s what we’re starting on Saturday.’’
The Kiwis are rebuilding under new coach Michael Maguire after last year’s embarrassing exit from the World Cup, when the David Kidwell-coached side suffered consecutive lossess to Tonga and Fiji to crash out in the quarterfinals.
That marked the end of a disastrous year that included the cocaine scandal following the Anzac test in Canberra, while their World Cup preparations were thrown into turmoil when Jason Taumalolo, David Fusitu’a, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, and Manu Ma’u switched to Tonga on the eve of the tournament.
Ultimately, results on the field will go a long way to winning back the public’s support but Peters says it is also about being more visible in New Zealand.
The Kiwis host Tonga next June and he says they are working towards scheduling more tests at home for both the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns, who this weekend host their first test in eight years.
‘‘It’s a long time between drinks and well overdue. What we want to do is grow the number of games to create a new pathway towards reinvigorating the sport in New Zealand,’’ Peters said. ‘‘We’ve got to put a few more things in place and get the commercial side worked out around it but certainly our plan is to bring more games to New Zealand over the next few years leading into the 2021 World Cup in the UK.’’