Tonga over­shad­ows Ki­wis

The Press - - Entertainment | Sport - Marvin France

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.’’

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