Written by John Davidson
Uncertainty surrounds this year’s World Cup but Tonga coach Kristian Woolf is planning for the tournament to go ahead and for his team to mount a strong challenge.
Organisers are expected to make a call next month on whether the 2021 competition will be staged as planned this year, or potentially postponed and pushed back because of Covid-19.
Tonga sensationally reached the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup and are expected to be one of the contenders for the trophy, after knocking off both Australia and Great Britain at the end of 2019.
Woolf is making sure the Mate Ma’a are ready if the tournament is still on this year.
“We can only work on the information we’ve been given at the minute,” he told Everything Rugby League.
“I understand there’s a lot of uncertainty, we just don’t know what the world’s going to look like in the eight or nine months when we get to the World Cup. But at the moment we’re being told it’s going ahead in whatever capacity we can.
“Whether that’s full crowds or capped crowds, I don’t know what all the scenarios are but we’re being told it’s going ahead. So our plans are that’s what happening and we’re full steam ahead in terms of putting what can in place to make sure we give ourselves the best preparation and give ourselves the best opportunity.
“Obviously we’ve got a terrific group there to work with that we know are going to be really competitive. It’s up to us to be the preparation in place to give them that the opportunity.”
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Woolf is hopeful of playing a Test against New Zealand in New Zealand mid-season, and another game in England right before the World Cup kicks off.
But the Australian admits Covid restrictions and quarantine requirements may scupper any plans of a match-up with the Kiwis.
“There is the possibility of a mid-year Test and I hope that goes ahead,” he said.
“It depends on what the world looks like over on that side, and obviously that would ideally be against New Zealand. We’d also like a trial, once the NRL and Super League competitions are finished, we’d like to come over here and play a trial in these conditions.
“I’m not sure [who], we’ve put a couple of feelers out that we haven’t heard back from at this stage. That’s what we’d like to do but I’m not quite sure where that suits.”
Tonga will head into the World Cup with an awesome array of talent to choose from, including Jason Taumalolo, Kotoni Staggs, Tevita Pangai Jnr, Addin Fonua-Blake and Sitili Tupouniua.
“The real positive in the group is that at the last World Cup some of the guys were 19, 20, 21 and ages like that, all but a couple were of an age where they were going to be at their prime at the next world Cup, and that’s certainly what we’re looking at,” Woolf said.
“It’s exciting for the future, not just for Tonga but for international rugby league. I know we’re going to put together a really competitive side and a really committed side in terms of what they want to do for Tonga.
“You’ve already got the heavyweights in terms of Australia, England and NZ. I think teams like Samoa are going to be stronger and a lot closer to the mark as well.
“I think it’s going to be the closest contested and the most exciting World Cup we’ve seen in terms of our sport, with a number of teams with a real opportunity of playing in the big games.
“That’s certainly what we want it to be, what we want to get to and what makes it exciting.”