Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Tonga has been pushing for International Rugby League tier one status for some time now after making their mark at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Before the tournament commenced star players Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita pledged their allegiance to Tonga in a move that sent shockwaves through the Rugby League world.
All of a sudden the Tongan men’s national team were the talk of the town and fans began to wonder if they were a genuine World Cup contender.
While they did not win the tournament in the end Tonga proved that they were indeed contenders and made International Rugby League’s best take notice by making it to the semi-final where they suffered a heartbreaking loss against England 20-18.
Despite the crushing defeat, Tonga came back stronger in 2018 by defeating arch-rivals Samoa and remaining competitive in a loss to reigning world champions Australia.
Kristian Woolf’s side then built on that result when playing as Tonga Invitational.
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They defeated the touring Great Britain side before causing what may be the biggest upset in professional Rugby League history when Tonga defeated Australia in a historic contest played out in front of thousands of proud Tongan supporters at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on the 2nd of November.
Since this game fans of all nations have been clamouring to see Tonga play again with many tipping them to go all the way at this year’s Rugby League World Cup where they will be playing in Group D against the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Wales.
However, Tonga will make their return to the International stage before the World Cup as they take on fellow contenders New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on the 25th of June ahead of the second game in the State of Origin series the following evening.
This game will be a true test for Tonga where they can work out just where they are at and what Kristian Woolf needs to change ahead of the World Cup.
It will also be the first professional Rugby League game to take place in New Zealand since 2019.
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