Pacific reps plead for more Tests
A pulsating 18-16 win by Samoa over Tonga left fans, coaches and players hoping the two nations would get to play more Tests in the future, saying they need to play to continue their nations' development to be able to compete with the top three countries.
Samoa coach Matt Parish said he had "no doubt whatsoever that Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and PNG could compete with England, New Zealand and Australia" if they got to play more often.
"It depends if the International Rugby League [RLIF] wants to have just three teams in the World Cup every year," Parish said after his side held on to a thrilling late win.
"It's a fine line because I understand these guys play for NRL clubs and I really appreciate the Dogs for instance letting Sam [Kasiano] and Frank [Pritchard] play with this group because those guys give it credibility, they lift the players.
"The young guys come into these squads and these teams, they play with guys like that and they go back better players."
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said the teams, who played out a thrilling Test over the same weekend last year for a spot in the Four Nations, couldn't afford to wait until the same time next year for more Test football.
"The thing the Pacific Island nations need is more Tests and more support to put those Tests on," Woolf said.
"There certainly needs to be some sort of Test football for our nations at the end of this year and I'd certainly like to think that this [mid-year Test] becomes a regular as well every year.
"I think both sides showed that if we get a little bit more opportunity to play together – and we've seen what Samoa did with the other nations in the Four Nations [by competing strongly] – we were obviously right in the match tonight so I think we've shown we can compete."
He added that Tonga's current international ranking – they are 16th behind nations like Russia, Canada and Serbia while Samoa rank fourth – could also be boosted if the side played more fixtures to pick up more points.
"Part of being able to jump up that ladder is being able to play some games. That's certainly not something we've been able to do a hell of a lot of over the past few years so again if we get more footy we'll get that opportunity at least," he said.
He added there had been "a lot of talk" around adding to the international calendar, but stressed his appreciation to the NRL and RLIF for helping the Pacific Tests over the rep weekend happen.
"I've got to applaud the NRL and the International Rugby League for this weekend, I think it's tremendous, and it certainly shows that there is interest," he said.
"I just hope that continues and that it's expanded."
He added that it makes it more difficult to keep Tongan players who also qualify for top-tier nations like Australia and New Zealand when those players don't know when their next game might be and the financial rewards aren't comparable.
"For us in terms of the Tongan side, the more games that we do get and the more support we get like this weekend, finances and things are always an issues but if games are more regular and we do get more support in that sense then I think you'd find more blokes would make decisions like [Tongan captain] Sika [Manu] has to play for their heritage and play for their country.
"There's certainly a desire there but again at times in the past, while that desire's there, you're not sure when your next game's going to come along so that certainly makes it difficult."
Tongan prop Richie Fa'aoso told NRL.com he'd also love to see more games but understood that the financial rewards would continue to drive promising players to represent major nations.
"It makes me so proud when I see the boys come back to their roots and play for Tonga. Tonga's going to be a real force, these blokes are paving the way to a good future for Tonga," he said.
"Hopefully if we can get more tests during the year or after the year... If the boys come back and play for their roots, money does a lot of things, you know.
"It makes me proud when I see these young boys come and play for their roots because it means a lot more than money. When you play for your culture or where your blood's from it means a lot more."