RNZ Pacific reports on the next generation of MMT League Stars

Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says it's getting harder every year to select a squad with so much emerging talent coming through the ranks. RNZ Pacific reports



The Kingdom will face New Zealand in the opening round of the Oceania Cup in Auckland later this month, in a much-awaited rematch of their famous victory over the Kiwis at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.


Brisbane Broncos star Tevita Pangai Junior joined the likes of Andrew Fifita, Jason Taumalolo and Sio Siua Taukeiaho last month in committing his international future to Tonga, after turning down the chance to play State of Origin.


Kristian Woolf said there is also a growing wave of young Tongan talent starting to make their mark in the NRL and press their case of international honours.


"Guys like young Moeaki Fotuaika over at the (Gold Coast) Titans who's going really well there," he said. "For a 19 year old kid he's leading that pack and being really consistent every week and if he's not playing with us this year he's certainly going to be in contention soon."


"Junior Tatola, who played for us last year, is getting better and better and he's forced his way into being a starter each week for Souths and they're leading the comp at the moment, which says a lot about him," explained Woolf.


"Manase Fainu's another one who's going terrifically there at Manly and he's a big part of why they're going so well in the competition as well. There's others as well: David Fifita (who has since been selected for Queensland and Brisbane Broncos teammate) Kotoni Staggs - there's some really good emerging talent coming through. It becomes harder and harder to pick the side every year, which is what you want it to be."


Mate Ma'a Tonga face the Kiwis on June 22 in a rematch Kristian Woolf says the Kingdom have been waiting two years for.



"It's one that we've asked for for a long time. It's one that I think both the Kiwis and us have really wanted to try and put together - the playing groups at least," he said.


"It does hold a little bit more of a grudge match-type feel, particularly when a lot of our guys have spent a lot of time in New Zealand or some have grown up in New Zealand and probably don't feel they were necessarily treated as well as they could have been when they changed back to Tonga.


"It will have a bit of feeling about it. It's one we're looking forward to and one that I'm sure both fans are really going to look forward to."


Tonga will also play world champions Australia in November as part of the Oceania Cup, the week after taking on the Great Britain Rugby League Lions in Hamilton.


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