Tonga boss Kristian Woolf would ‘love’ to take a game to the Pacific Island: ‘It would be an outstanding legacy’

Ben Olawumi
Kristian Woolf, Tonga squad

Tonga boss Kristian Woolf with his squad ahead of a World Cup warm-up match against France in October 2022 - Alamy

Tonga head coach Kristian Woolf wants to be the man that takes the nation’s rugby league team back to its home country, admitting he’s talked about it with his players for a long time.

Woolf has been in charge of Tonga since 2014, at the helm for the last two World Cup campaigns including the 2017 edition which saw them pipped to the post by England in the semi-finals.

In the nine years he’s spent in the hotseat so far, Mount Isa-born Woolf has seen his side play games in Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, England and even Hawaii, but never Tonga itself.

In fact, the last game on record which saw Tonga play in their own country was way back in October 2007, a win in a 14-12 thriller against Fiji, played at the Tenefaira Field Stadium in Nuku’alofa. 

Now, he says he and his team are more than ready to make a return, and believes doing so will allow them to leave a legacy behind.

Tonga boss Kristian Woolf wants to see game in home country: ‘It would be an outstanding legacy’

Speaking after yesterday’s 14-4 defeat against England in Huddersfield, Woolf said: “We’d love to (play in Tonga). It’s something that myself, Will (Hopoate), Jason Taumalolo and Konrad Hurrell – players who’ve been around for a long time – have spoken about for a long time.

“One thing we’d love to do is take a game back to Tonga and take our best players back to Tonga. I’m sure if you asked Will of his commitment to Tonga and what he’s wanting to achieve, one of the things he’ll talk about is legacy.

“That’s a legacy for young Tongan kids all over the world, but our biggest populations are obviously Western Sydney, Southern Queensland and Auckland – and that’s outside Tonga itself.

“I think these blokes have left an outstanding long-lasting legacy. You look at guys like Toluta’u Koula, young Junior Tupou made his debut tonight, Haumole Olakau’atu – those guys want to play for Tonga and commit to Tonga first because of what these guys have done before them. There’s not a bigger legacy we could leave than taking a game with our best players to Tonga.

Mate Ma’a Tonga willing to play host to anyone

All seven of Tonga’s most recent games have come in this country, a World Cup warm-up against France last October in Halifax, the four that they played in the tournament itself on a run to the quarter-finals and the two clashes with England played out so far in this autumn’s test series. The eighth will come at Headingley next Saturday – November 4 – as that series is concluded.

The expectation is that for next year, Woolf’s men will join the Pacific Championships, replacing Samoa who in turn will come over here for a series against England.

Where those Pacific Championship games take place is yet to be confirmed, but regardless of who they face, the boss and his side are willing to play host.

He continued: “There’s a lot of things that would need to be sorted out, there’s a lot of of things in Tonga.

“It’d be a difficult exercise, but to be as a direct as I can: it would be something we’d love to do, whether it was England, Samoa, New Zealand – we’d love anyone to put their hands up and say they’d want to come back there.

“It would be an outstanding legacy to leave that country.”

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