Samoa captain Frank Pritchard and Tonga captain Sika Manu.

Pritchard, Manu flying the international flag

Any doubts over the relevance of international rugby league were quashed the moment one UK Super League club released two of its most important players ahead of a sudden-death clash against one of its fiercest rivals. 

Hull FC are set to take on St Helens in the Challenge Cup this weekend in what will be as a crunch sixth-round tie, but they'll have to do so without former NRL stars Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu. 

The pair will miss the clash not through injury or suspension but because they are in Australia to lead Tonga and Samoa in the Pacific Test this Saturday night at Pirtek Stadium. 

"We were both captains last year so we've been speaking about it for a few months," Manu told NRL.com. 

"Me and Franky have been talking about it for a while so it's great that it actually happened. We are really fortunate to have a club that was willing to release us to come and play this Test, especially with the Challenge Cup this week. 

"The only problem we faced was having to play St Helens in the first round of the Challenge Cup but our coach was confident that the boys could get the job done. We've got a lot of depth at the club at the moment so it was easy in the end.

"Clubs should be more mindful of the international game… and City-Country as well. To play representative footy means a lot to the players and gives them a boost. Hopefully in the future more clubs can do what Hull did so we can get more players playing for our country."

 


Pritchard echoed his Tongan counterpart's sentiments, praising the Super League club for their efforts to promote the international game. 

"The sacrifice that club has made – especially with the Challenge Cup on – is very humbling to both of us," a grateful Pritchard told NRL.com this week. 

"I know how important it is to the club and to our fans to get some silverware so I can't thank them enough."

Last week's 22-hour flight from the UK to Australia would have been hard enough, but the pair had just played in Hull's 28-26 win over Catalans the previous night. 

"Some people say it's a long trip but when you think about the bigger picture and what you're actually coming back for, it's all worth it," the former Bulldogs back-rower said. 

"It's a week where we can let the Pacific countries grow in terms of footy. Rugby league here in Australia is massive, but to see countries like PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa growing is what the game's all about."

Pritchard went one step further, saying he'd like to see more Test football on the rugby league calendar. 

"I don't reckon there's enough international footy, especially for the lower teams. I think to help the game grow they need to have more fixtures like this," the Samoan skipper said.  

"This is a great concept to have the stand alone week but I think we can play at the end of the season as well. 

"There's a lot of hype around Four Nations and that but I don't see why we can't make it bigger like the Six Nations in rugby overseas. We could easily add another two teams to the tournament here and help the game grow."

Former Samoan skipper and current NRL Ambassador Roy Asotasi was impressed by the commitment shown by the two men and thanked their club for supporting the world game. 

"It just shows how much this game means to them. It shows their passion for how much it means to represent their countries," Asotasi said. 

"For them to release two guys for the growth of the international game is outstanding. They've let them fly across the world and back again just to represent their culture for 80 minutes."

Tongan coach Kristian Woolf said Manu's inclusion was huge for Tongan football and his determination to play was testament to how much he cared about the jersey. 

"It's outstanding and I'm sure Samoa feel the same way about Frank Pritchard," Woolf said. 

"We obviously pushed hard to get him back here and we're happy that's been Ok'd both by the NRL and Hull FC. 

"The reason we wanted him to come back is he is a real leader in our group and he's obviously a bloke who's very passionate about playing for Tonga and taking Tongan rugby league forward and helping us improve. 

"I've never spoken to Sika without him being 100 per cent committed to putting his hand up to play for Tonga. Having him is a real boost for the rest of the players."