Tonga ace Tui Lolohea says ‘playing for your country is the pinnacle of rugby league’, and reflects with pride on the autumn test series against England, despite the results.
Shaun Wane’s England whitewashed the Tongans, victorious in St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds to achieve a 3-0 series win with Lolohea starting all three of those games at half-back.
The Huddersfield Giants ace was one of three Super League players in Woolf’s squad for the series, alongside then-St Helens duo Konrad Hurrell and Will Hopoate.
Hurrell, of course, remains with the Saints as we approach the new season, but Hopoate opted to hang up his boots at the end of the autumn test series, captaining Tonga at Headingley in the last instalment of the trilogy.
Huddersfield Giants star Tui Lolohea reflects on ‘absolutely incredible’ Tonga camp
Every other player who donned a shirt for Mate Ma’a Tonga last autumn came over from the NRL, part of the first Tonga squad to take England on in this country since 2006.
Lolohea remains proud of how they all conducted themselves off the pitch as well as on it, as he told Love Rugby League at Huddersfield‘s media day last month.
“It was disappointing the results, obviously we’ve come over here to win, and there were ups and downs in that tour.
“Most of the players came from Australia, and they were getting used to the cold and the wet, it’s not often they play in those conditions.
“It is a big shock, but I think it was all about getting us out of our comfort zone. We did that preparing for a World Cup, which is getting put back into the Southern Hemisphere, but it was still a great experience for the group.
“It was the first time coming over here for a long time, and the camp was absolutely incredible. We had a lot of resources and it’s a learning curve on the pitch.”
Tui Lolohea: ‘Playing for your country is the pinnacle of rugby league’
Across the three test series games, Lolohea picked up his 15th, 16th and 17th official caps for Tonga having featured in both of the two previous World Cups for Kristian Woolf’s men.
The 28-year-old – born in Auckland – also has a sole cap to his name for New Zealand, and two for Tonga’s ‘Invitational XIII’.
Lolohea has played in a Super League Grand Final and two Challenge Cup finals, but insists it doesn’t get better than pulling on a shirt at international level.
He continued: “Playing for your country is the pinnacle of rugby league, and not many people get to do it.
“For me to be able to do it so many times is a massive achievement, not just for me, but for my family, because that’s what I represent.
“I’m sure that I’ve made them proud over the years doing so.”