With the 2021 Rugby League World Cup still in a state of flux due to the sudden withdrawal of both Australia and New Zealand, there is still no certainty around the availability of players for Pacific Island nations. Most of these nations have been made up almost exclusively by NRL players over the last decade or so.
The undisputed fairytale of the 2017 World Cup was no doubt the island Kingdom of Tonga. The nation of 100,000 people then went on to beat rugby league heavyweights Australia in 2019, with scenes of tears and jubilation captured from the passionate Tongan locals and diaspora.
Largely credited as the chief pioneer of the Tongan movement, star forward Jason Taumalolo has recently made his thoughts about the World Cup situation very clear when speaking to the press.
“It’s obviously disappointing to have Australia and New Zealand pull out but two countries pulling out doesn’t really hamper what the game is all about,” said Taumalolo.
“It’s about international footy and getting other countries and nations ready to play each other.
“Obviously, I can’t change anything, I’ve just got to roll with it I guess.”
With World Cup organisers scrambling to pick up the pieces of the Australia and New Zealand withdrawal, it’s becoming clearer by the day that the intentions and wishes of the players will be a very big part in the decision to either replace the two missing nations, cancel the tournament or postpone the tournament by 12 months, placing it in heavy traffic, including the FIFA World Cup. With this in mind, RLWC2021 organisers issued a statement to fans overnight.
“In light of the decision by the ARLC and NZRL to withdraw from the event this year, the Board have asked that the RLWC2021 team continue to hold further urgent discussions with all stakeholders, particularly the players, aimed at correcting misinformation as well as measuring the sentiment on proceeding with the tournament this year”.
One nation’s loss is another nation’s gain sometimes as players who we’re likely to be picked for Australia and New Zealand all of a sudden have a clear path to represent Tonga. A great example of this is Queensland forward David Fifita. Below are the current NRL players eligible for Tongan selection, likely the strongest pool the small island nation has ever had at their disposal.
TONGA ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
Will Hopoate, Sione Katoa, Ofahiki Ogden, David Fifita, Moeaki Fotuaika, Joseph Vuna, Joe Ofahengaue, Stefano Utoikamanu, John Asiata, Tesi Niu, Kotoni Staggs, Siliva Havili, Albert Hopoate, Andrew Fifita, Siosifa Talakai, George Jennings, Felise Kaufusi, Brenko Lee, Manase Fainu, Sione Fainu, Tevita Funa, Haumole Olakau’atu, Taniela Paseka, Moses Suli, Jorge Taufua, Christian Tuipulotu, Addin Fonua-Blake, David Fusitu’a, Eliesa Katoa, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Tyson Frizell, Starford To’a, Waqa Blake, Oregon Kaufusi, Michael Oldfield, Will Penisini, Peter Hola, Jason Taumalolo, Robert Jennings, Tevita Pangai Junior, Scott Sorensen, Tuku Hau Tapuha, Matt Ikuvalu, Daniel Tupou, Sitili Tupouniua, Keaon Koloamatangi, Hame Sele, Tevita Tatola