Tonga boss Kristian Woolf is relishing a return to the Totally Wicked Stadium on Sunday as his side take on England in the first test of the three-match autumn series, admitting ‘it feels like coming home’ as he detailed his love for the place.
Australian Woolf spent three years in the Merseyside town, leading the club to a three-peat of Super League titles with Grand Final wins in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Also winning the Challenge Cup in his second year at the club, the 48-year-old had a huge role in the Red Vee creating an unprecedented legacy in the British game, departing at the end of last season and handing the reigns over to assistant Paul Wellens.
Taking up an assistant role in the NRL at the Dolphins alongside head coach – and former England boss – Wayne Bennett, Woolf will return to WA9 for the first time since his departure on Sunday as he leads his Tonga team out against England.
Tonga boss Kristian Woolf relishing St Helens return on Sunday: ‘It feels like coming home’
“It’s a great place to come back to,” the former Saints chief said with a beaming smile at Tuesday’s pre-series press conference.
“Just the feeling when we got off the plane at Manchester and driving past St Helens and driving into Liverpool – it has got a feeling like coming home.
“Obviously I loved my time over here and I loved the town, I love the club and the players I got to deal with as well.
“It’s going to be great to go up against some of those players, I hold them in extremely high regard and I know how good they are and how strong the competition over here is as well. That makes it a little bit more exciting.”
Woolf credits St Helens town for fundraising efforts in aid of Tonga last year
At the start of Woolf’s final season heading up the Red Vee last term, the club and town came together to raise funds supporting the victims of a tsunami caused by a volcanic eruption.
Saints’ links with Tonga go further, with players Agnatius Paasi, Konrad Hurrell and Will Hopoate all representing the country internationally. Paasi misses out through injury, but the latter pair are both in Woolf’s squad for the three-game series, and he’s detailed just how heartfelt the town’s fundraising efforts were.
Woolf continued: “Obviously with myown involvement with Tonga and St Helens, and being involved with guys like Will, Konnie and Agnatius, there’s a fairly strong link there and has been for a few years now.
“When the tsunani came along, we put our hands up and wanted to be a part of putting smiles back on people’s faces back in Tonga and I was really proud of the efforts of the whole town, it was outstanding.
“People came in who wanted to donate and be a part of that and wanted to get behind that, so it really strengthened that connection.
“We were lucky enough to have a couple of games here at the World Cup which helped strengthened that a little bit more and it’s great to be back. We’re under no illusions here, we’ve come over here to hostile ground and we’re playing England in three games on English soil.
“We’re not expecting the fans to be behind us, but I’m hoping there’s a couple of St Helens fans who want to cheer us on!”