The rivalry between New Zealand and Tonga has the potential to be as big as State of Origin.
That’s what Tonga head coach Kristian Woolf believes as the two sides meet this Saturday for the Pacific Test in Auckland.
It will be the first rugby league fixture at Mt Smart Stadium since New Zealand Warriors’ last home game on August 30, 2019. The last Test played at the ground was five weeks before that against Tonga.
Official teams are to be named on Wednesday for the clash, which will also be preparations for the upcoming World Cup in England.
One man delighted to see its return is Woolf, who will be watching from England due to St Helens duties, with Dean Young taking charge as caretaker coach. Wayne Bennett has also joined the coaching staff.
Saints boss Woolf is excited by the future of the Test between the two nations, believing it could grow to be as big as State of Origin one day.
Kristian Woolf on growing New Zealand and Tonga rivalry
Woolf told Love Rugby League: “Obviously State of Origin and things like that are very significant in the rugby league calendar and carry a lot of importance. But if you grow up in New Zealand or if you’re Tongan, this game is the biggest you can get.
“There’s a real rivalry there and I think given time and given opportunity, I think it can really grow to be like a State of Origin sort of rivalry and have that kind of profile and presence in the sporting calendar, particular in New Zealand.”
The Kiwis claimed a 34-14 victory last time out in New Zealand at the same venue as Saturday’s in the Oceania Cup. Tonga head into the World Cup ranked #3 in the world, with some of NRL’s biggest stars representing the side. This weekend, those include Jason Taumalolo, Tevita Pangai jnr and Kotoni Staggs.
“It’s something in the vicinity of 80,000 Tongans that live in New Zealand,” Woolf continued.
“We’re expecting a full house there and it’s a really special week.
“It’s a great group that we’ve (Tonga) put together. A good blend of experienced guys that have helped us to get to the position that we’re in, in terms of our ranking in the world and the fact that we’ve earned these big occasions and big games.
“We’ve also got some really exciting talent there that I’m really excited to see how they perform at this level. I’m very confident that they’ll perform extremely well.”