A number of Tongan players could be selected for NSW and Queensland in State of Origin this season, but Tonga coach Kristian Woolf is unconcerned by any potential impact to his World Cup squad.
With Latrell Mitchell’s injury, a number of centres have been linked to the Blues for the 2022 series. Brisbane Bronco Kotoni Staggs is reportedly in contention, along with Cronulla Sharks powerhouse Siosifa Talakai.
Staggs has played two Tests for the Mate Ma’a, while Talaki is also eligible to represent the Pacific nation.
Forwards David Fifita and Felise Kaufusi are others who have played for Queensland in the past, but are also eligible for Tonga.
But Woolf is unfazed if any are called up for the inter-state series, as under the rules they can play Origin and also represent Tonga, a tier 2 country, in the same year.
“I wouldn’t be worried at all,” the coach told Everything Rugby League.
“Dual eligibility is not something that everyone understands, but I’ve certainly grown to understand it through my involvement with Tonga. There’s a lot of players who move young with their families to Australia and New Zealand for opportunity, some of those players’ families before they were born for opportunity.
“But that doesn’t change how Tongan they are. It doesn’t change how they’ve grown up and how they see their culture and how they identify. If you’ve grown up in Australia then playing State of origin is a massive thing and a massive opportunity.
“There’s still other things around that, in terms of financial benefits and the prestige of the competition and those kinds of things that just can’t be matched at the moment. If players take the opportunity to play Origin, well the Origin teams can’t pick all Tongans, so some might play.
“There’s going to others that miss out and play for Tonga in the mid-season Test. But I know where commitments lie in terms of the World Cup.
“Playing Origin doesn’t stop players playing for Tonga at the end of the year. And some of those players will certainly commit to Tonga at the end of the year but that’s a decision they can make at the end of the year as well.”
Tonga will face New Zealand in Auckland in a Test match on June 25, a day before State of Origin Game II in Perth.
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Woolf’s side are gearing up for the World Cup in the UK this October, after historic victories over Australia and Great Britain in 2019.
The Mate Ma’a are expected to field a host of NRL stars at the tournament including Moeaki Fotuaika, Joe Ofahengaue, Haumole Olakau’atu, Taniela Paseka, Moses Suli, , Addin Fonua-Blake, Starford To’a, Jason Taumalolo, Robert Jennings, Tevita Pangai Junior, Daniel Tupou and Tevita Tatola.
Tonga reached the semi-finals in the 2017 World Cup and will contenders for the trophy this year.’
“We’re going to have a lot of similar players to 2017,” Woolf said.
“A lot of those players were young men at that stage and are now in the pride of their careers. Some of them have gone on to be terrific leaders – the Taumalolos, the Taukieahos, Fonua-Blakes – those kinds of guys have grown into special men that are terrific leaders.
“That’s great for the nation and great for the team we’re going to put together. There’s a whole crop of new players coming through that are only going to add to that, and add, not only to the talent available but the experience at NRL level that’s available.
“I think for the first time we’re going to put together a squad of 24 where every single player is in their prime, experienced at NRL level and has got the ability to have a real impact at the World Cup.
“That means we can go there with really big expectations of ourselves and real confidence in what we can achieve as well.”