Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu has made himself unavailable for Tonga at the upcoming World Cup, deciding to focus on pre-season instead.
The 22-year-old powerhouse was included in a 38-man extended squad by Tonga coach Kristian Woolf just over a week ago.
But given that he has only made nine NRL appearances for the Tigers this season due to injury, Utoikamanu has decided to pull himself out of the tournament to focus on a strong pre-season.
Utoikamanu was born in New Zealand and is of Tongan heritage. He says he would still love to represent his Tongan roots in the future.
He said: “I’m honoured to have been included in the extended squad and one day I would love to play in a World Cup.
“It’s just that after the year I’ve had I need to spend as much time as I can getting my strength levels back up. This is my priority right now.
“I’ve been working hard in the gym for a while now, but I haven’t been able to do any of the real heavy stuff.
“Soon I will be able to lift the intensity with the weights and then be at the right level of strength when the squad comes back together in November.”
Woolf had to submit his 24-man Tongan squad to World Cup organisers by September 24, the same day of St Helens’ Grand Final triumph at Old Trafford.
Tonga extended World Cup squad
Talatau Junior Amone
Tevita Pangai Jnr