Tonga fulfil former coach's vision
Former Tongan rugby league coach Charles Tonga has lavished praise on the nation's World Cup side, saying they have fulfilled a plan eight years in the making.
Tonga coached the national side from 2009 until the end of the 2013 World Cup and has watched with pride as the likes of Andrew Fifita, Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, David Fusitu'a and Manu Ma'u have turned their backs on Australia and New Zealand to link with the Pacific Island nation.
As the Tongans prepare to take on New Zealand in the Pool B deciding clash in Hamilton on Saturday, the former national coach provided NRL.com with a sense of what the Kristian Woolf-coached side had done for rugby league in his homeland.
"It was always my vision from when I started coaching that our Tongan stars would come back and represent our little nation at the peak of their careers rather than at the end, and I applaud them all," Tonga said.
"It is the pinnacle to represent Australia and New Zealand, so for guys like Andrew Fifita and young Taumalolo to come back to us has done great things.
"This team is the pride of our people. There is a parade in my country every day. You just have to go on Facebook and see what is happening in Tonga.
"These kids today were born and raised in Australia or New Zealand, but to represent Tonga is all about representing your family and your heritage, and that is what the boys are really getting.
"A lot of them turned down big money with New Zealand and Australia. We all need money, but to play for pride and love means more.
"I really believe Taumalolo opened up the door and we will see more young players do this in future."
It would require an upset of epic proportions to do so, but Tonga believes the side can win the World Cup.
"Without a shadow of a doubt. I do believe they can," Tonga said.
"Why can't they? They play every week against the best of the best. These guys play NRL and a lot of them have played for New Zealand and Australia.
"It is just a matter of the boys believing in themselves.
"We thought we had a good team in 2013 but this team has blown it out of the water. It is without doubt the best side to have ever represented Tonga and that is a real credit to Woolfy and all the boys.
"We have to focus on New Zealand and just enjoy the journey and the ride.
"It will be David versus Goliath, but David beat Goliath. No challenge is too big. There are no limits. I remember when New Zealand beat Australia in the 2008 World Cup it was unexpected.
"In rugby league a team can look good on paper but it is who shows up on the day and wants it more."
Tonga insists the very best of his small island nation's best export is on show.
"We don't export oil or gas. Tonga is not known for its tourism like Fiji or New Zealand," an emotional Tonga said.
"Our best export in our country is our people and a lot of our people just happen to be great footballers.
"We have nothing materially. We have God, our families and unity and that's it."