Tonga's fight to stand alone
He played 13 Tests for New Zealand before electing to play for Tonga and Panthers forward Sika Manu hopes the promise of regular Test matches will be enough to convince the next generation to commit long term to Tonga Rugby League.
Tonga and Papua New Guinea will meet for the first time outside of a World Cup in Papua New Guinea on Sunday in a match that both nations will hope to reassert them as future powerhouses in international rugby league.
Despite registering wins over the Cook Islands and Italy in the pool stage of last year's World Cup, a shock 26-24 loss to Scotland in their opening game meant that Tonga failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Last year's squad boasted the likes of Jason Taumalolo, Konrad Hurrell, Sosaia Feki and Daniel Tupou, players who were all selected to play for either New Zealand or Australia in the Four Nations tournament starting next Saturday with Hurrell having to later withdraw due to injury.
It's indicative of the struggle emerging nations such as Tonga and Samoa face with dual eligibility but Manu told NRL.com that he hopes opportunities such as the Test in Lae on Sunday will assist in Tonga keeping their very best players.
"I think it's really important and will be good for Tonga Rugby League to get regular games every year. Even just two games a year would be good and build Tonga Rugby League up and if we get the chance to do that then in a few years times we'll be a really strong team," said Manu, who will be playing his fourth Test for Tonga.
"There were a lot of guys last year that could have got chosen for the Kiwis that chose to play for Tonga for the World Cup so I'm not sure what it is but hopefully it will get sorted out soon.
"It is changing. We've got a lot of boys from last year that wanted to build Tonga Rugby League like myself, Fuifui Moimoi, Jason Taumalolo and a few other boys that chose to play for Tonga to build up Tonga Rugby League for the young talent coming through to want to play for Tonga when they get older."
One of the positive stories to come from the squad selected to play PNG is the commitment by Solomone Kata to play for Tonga as opposed to the Junior Kiwis who registered a shock 15-14 win over the Junior Kangaroos on Saturday night.
Kata was man of the match in the Warriors' Holden Cup grand final win two weeks ago and coach Kristian Woolf hopes there are others who will soon follow suit.
"We've got guys like Solomone Kata who has made the decision to not play Junior Kiwis and wanted to come away as part of this trip so there are certainly some guys making those decisions and it's good to see," Woolf said.
"Solomone Kata was man of the match in the under-20s final and he's going to be a really good little player. We've got guys like Samisoni Langi who have been there before and done a good job and is still a young, developing player. Then there are guys like Peni Terepo and Sika and Ben Murdoch-Masila who have been in the NRL for a little while and in Ben and Peni's case really starting to show what they can do.
"There are a lot of guys who are really passionate about playing for Tonga instead of other nations and Sika is a really good example of that. He's made the choice that he's going to play for Tonga not only at last year's World Cup but he's going to continue with Tonga so the more we get players like that that want to commit then I'll think we'll see young guys that want to do the same thing.
"We want to get some regular games so that if you choose to play for Tonga you know you're going to get games each year and that's what this game's about and trying to build off that a little bit.
"If international football is going to grow, particularly for the smaller nations, it really does need support from the NRL firstly and also from the NRL clubs. Some clubs are really helpful and others certainly aren't and make it really difficult to get access to players at the end of the year."
Papua New Guinea (squad): Dion Aiye, Stanton Albert, Israel Eliab, Adam Korave, Roger Laka, Timothy Lomai, Gary Lo, Rhyse Martin, Mark Mexico, Willie Minoga, Kato Otio, Sebastian Pandia, Brandy Peter, Wartovo Puara, Esau Siune, Jason Tali, Thompson Teteh, Lawrence Tu'u, Henry Wan, Adex Wera, Noel Zeming. Coach: Mal Meninga. Assistant Coach: Michael Marum.
Tonga (squad): Sitaleki-Moala Akau'ola (Wests Tigers), Viliami Fine (Wests Tigers), Sione Folau (Eels), Daniel Foster (Panthers), David Hala (Broncos), Solomone Kata (Warriors), Samisoni Langi (Roosters), Haveatama Luani (Wests Tigers), Sika Manu (Panthers), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Panthers), Agnatius Paasi (Warriors), Wellentony Satini (Sea Eagles), Ukuma Taai (Huddersfield), Siosiua Taukeiaho (Roosters), Peni Terepo (Eels), Vai Toutai (Eels), Pio Bill Tupou (Raiders). Coach: Kristian Woolf.