Kotoni Staggs is set to play for Mate Ma’a Tonga in this weekend’s Test against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium after being left out of the NSW team for the second State of Origin against Queensland in Perth.
Staggs, who played for the Blues in the series opening 16-10 loss in Sydney, was faced with a difficult choice after he and NSW team-mate were selected in an extended Tonga squad for the Test on June 25 – the day before Origin II.
Players who qualify for Australia and a tier two nation can play State of Origin and still represent their heritage at international level.
Tupou retained his spot in the Blues team and another member of the Tonga squad, Cronulla powerhouse Siosifa Talakai, was also chosen in the NSW squad but Staggs was one of six players to lose their spots.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf confirmed that Staggs would now fly to Auckland to prepare for the clash with the Kiwis, which will be the first elite rugby league played in New Zealand since November 2019 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Woolf said he had been aware that the likes of Tupou, Staggs, Talakai and Manly Sea Eagles forward Haumole Olakau’atu could be named in two teams and would have to decide but he didn’t want them to miss out on playing next weekend if they weren’t chosen by NSW coach Brad Fittler.
An event you do not want to miss!! Meet some of your favourite Kiwi and Tongan players next Wednesday!
— NZ Rugby League (@NZRL_Kiwis) June 16, 2022
Staggs is expected to play five-eighth for Tonga and partner rookie St George Illawarra Dragons playmaker Talatau Amone at the scrum-base.
The Brisbane Broncos star was halfback for Tonga in the historic 2019 Test defeat of Australia at Mt Smart Stadium and has regularly stated a desire to play five-eighth at NRL level.
With Woolf unavailable to travel to Auckland because of commitments with Super League club St Helens, Dean Young will take over as caretaker coach and will be supported by Wayne Bennett in an advisory role.
Manly winger Christian Tuipulotu is expected to replace Tupou in the Tonga line-up, while either Parramatta’s Will Penisini or West Tigers back Starford To’a are likely to replace Talakai, who was selected in the centres.
The Test against New Zealand will be part of a double-header including the Kiwi Ferns against the Mate Ma’a Tonga women’s team, who are hoping to qualify for the 2025 World Cup in France.