Tonga can take pride from taking international rugby league to new heights, with more stars pledging their allegiance to their nations of heritage at this World Cup.
That’s the view of head coach Kristian Woolf and captain Jason Taumalolo. The latter spearheaded a movement which changed the international landscape of rugby league as we know it.
Taumalolo, along with the likes of Andrew Fifita and Siosiua Taukeiaho, committed to representing their Tongan heritage ahead of the 2017 World Cup rather than opting to play for Australia or New Zealand.
They’ve not only inspired more Tongans, they’ve had a knock-on effect on their Pacific neighbours Samoa. The likes of Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Joseph Suaalii and Josh Papali’i have opted to represent their Samoan roots over Australia at this World Cup.
Samoa knocked Tonga out of the tournament on Sunday in a 20-18 thriller. Despite being understandably disappointed, Woolf says Tonga can be proud of inspiring other nations to commit to their nations of heritage.
“I think it’s something we can take a lot of pride from,” Woolf said. “On the back of 2017, international rugby league is certainly in a better place. It’s certainly more competitive and it’s something to really look forward to moving forward.
“It doesn’t take away our disappointment (of being knocked out). We know what sort of squad we’ve got together. We know what we’re capable of and we just haven’t quite hit those heights this tournament.
“We’ve got to learn from it, you learn more from losses. We’ve certainly got a lot of things to think about and learn from going forward.
“There’s a lot of proud guys down there who are extremely proud of who they play for and who they represent when they pull on a Tongan jersey.”
Jason Taumalolo proud of Tonga for being international catalyst
NRL superstar Taumalolo has 16 Tongan caps. The North Queensland Cowboys powerhouse has predicted a bright future for Tonga after seeing more players pledge their allegiance.
“We’re only seeing the ripple effects of that now,” he said.
“Seeing young players like Tesi (Niu), a young kid coming through the grades and he’s making the decision to play for Tonga. That shows how much of an effect that, not just myself, but a few other players have done to come back and represent Tonga.
“I think it would be great to have a full strength side that can give the bigger teams a bit of a scare.
“It’s great to see players of heritage returning back and play for Samoa.”