Tonga players ‘jumping out of their skin’ for England series to get international RL on a roll

Drew Darbyshire
Tonga players Rugby League World Cup SWpix

Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has revealed that his players were incredibly keen for their test series against England to go ahead this autumn.

It has finally been officially announced that England will host Tonga in a three-match test series at the end of the year, with games taking place in St Helens, Leeds and Huddersfield.

And Woolf was delighted to see the series get the green light, and wants international rugby league to build on the back of last year’s World Cup.

“We had three three-year break where they was no international football so I think it is important that we get a roll on now,” Woolf said.

“The World Cup was great, it certainly generated interest and it was the most competitive that we’ve seen of a World Cup and there were different nations going really well too, so that’s all good for the international game. I think it is important that we keep that going.

“There’s a really exciting opportunity for us. For Tonga, we’ve never had the opportunity to be invited to the UK or to play a three-game series against anybody, so it is a historic and proud occasion for us.

“It has come at the right moment for us too, that get the opportunity to be the headline team and play a series rather than a one-off test match or a couple of games. It is something we’re really looking forward to.”

Tonga players ‘jumping out of their skin’ for England series

England v Tonga Konrad Hurrell and Tui Lolohea SWpix Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Tonga will create a small part of history this autumn when they become the first-ever Pacific Island nation to tour the UK in a test series.

Woolf says his players are excited at the opportunity of touring the north of England this autumn.

He added: “I’ve got the pleasure of working with Jesse Bromwich at the moment (at the Dolphins), we were in conversation a couple of weeks ago and he and his brother Kenny were talking about their experiences on tour to the UK with New Zealand playing a three-game series and the length of time they were on tour.

“They couldn’t speak highly enough of their experiences, basically saying they were some of the experiences they’d had in terms of rugby league in general, but certainly international rugby league.

“That is certainly the way our players, particularly the older players who’ve had some experience with different nations, are all feeling. They are really looking forward to it.

“The fact that you get to play a really strong nation three times, it isn’t a one-off game where things can go either way. You get to experience the big game and then go in to another big game and build a little bit of a rivalry, you understand each other and you try to figure out new ways of trying to win. All that adds to the excitement.

“Three or four weeks is a really good time to be in the UK and it is something to look forward to. It isn’t a one-week trip or a quick flash in the pan and at the same time it isn’t as long as what a World Cup is, so our players are jumping out of their skin to get over there.”

Tonga keen to make amends for ‘disappointing’ World Cup campaign

Woolf said his players played a big role in getting the test series on and are keen to make amends for a disappointing World Cup campaign last year, where they lost to Pacific neighbours Samoa in the quarter-finals.

He said: “We’re a little bit different with Tonga. One thing we make sure we do is involve the players, certainly the leaders but the greater group as well in every decision we make and everything we do.

“It’s about them at the end of the day and it is about giving those guys the opportunity to represent the country they are very proud of and the heritage they are really proud of, so it is important they are part of the decision.

“They were a big part of that, they were included in the discussion and given the opportunity to put their thoughts forward. There are some players who saw some opportunity around being able to play games a bit closer to home and that was exciting and we’re excited for them but the vast majority were very keen to get over to the UK, playing in a really exciting test match series that Tonga have never been part of before.

“They all understand the historic nature of that and to really make amends for some disappointments in the World Cup and show we can play our best over there as well so that was the overriding feeling and there was overriding excitement about that as well.”

Tickets now on sale

The Rugby Football League have confirmed that tickets are now on sale for this autumn’s test series as they look to build on last year’s home World Cup.

Tickets are on sale now at from £25 adults and £12.50 Under-16s. A three-match bundle is also available from £52.50 Adults and £26.25 Under-16s.

The RFL say the series broadcasting and naming rights will be announced in due course.

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