Tonga to name formidable team led by Taumalolo for Test against Samoa
Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Will Hopoate are set to come under consideration to captain a Tonga side bolstered by the defection of New Zealand prop Addin Fonua-Blake in next week’s Pacific Test against Samoa.
Fonua-Blake, who played for Tonga in last year’s corresponding Test against Fiji, has decided to again align himself to the Mate Ma’a after representing the Kiwis at the World Cup.
The Manly prop will join a powerful Tongan pack led by Taumalolo and Fifita, which is set to also include the likes of Tevita Pangai jnr, Joe Ofahengaue, Siosiua Taukieaho, Peni Terepo and Manu Ma’u.
Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitu’a Solomone Kata, Mahe Fonua, Daniel Tupou and the Jennings brothers, Michael, Robert and George are in contention for places in the outside backs.
Canberra’s Ata Hingano and Wests Tigers utility Tuimoala Lolahea will again be the halves, while Raiders hooker Siliva Havilli and Penrith’s Sione Katoa are likely to share the dummy-half role.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf plans to announce a 19-man squad on Thursday and he revealed it would comprise of NRL players only due to the cost of flying the likes of Sika Manu and Ben Murdoch-Masila from England.
Taumalolo told the North Queensland website he was proud to commit to Tonga again after last year's World Cup campaign.
"The following we had and the amount of support we had was overwhelming and it made our journey in the World Cup that much more special. To share it with a group of boys who obviously sacrificed a lot to be a part of that group, I find it really hard to describe how proud I am of them all.
"I wanted to experience that feeling again this June Test and I can't wait to get out there wearing that Tongan jersey again.
"Myself along with a number of other players, have recommitted to Tonga again because we are passionate about our heritage and we also want to help make international rugby league stronger and the best way for us to do that is by making Tonga a competitive team internationally.
"I hope the governing bodies of the game also follow suit by making sure Tonga and other tier-two nations have the opportunity to play regular meaningful games against tier one nations."
Manu is the Mate Ma’a captain and Woolf hopes the Hull FC second-rower will again lead the team in the future but he needs to appoint a new skipper for the June 23 Test at Campbelltown Stadium.
"Sika has been the captain for a long time and that doesn’t need to change just because he is not involved in this Test," Woolf said.
"Will Hopoate was captain in this game last year and there are a number of guys who I think have leadership potential like Peni Terepo, Konrad Hurrell and Andrew [Fifita] have certainly grown into a leader."
New Zealand officials were aware Taumalolo would not be returning to the Kiwis fold for the Test in Denver against England on the same night.
The Tonga side will be largely drawn from last year’s World Cup squad but the addition of Fonua-Blake and the form of Pangai jnr and Ofahengaue for the Broncos this season makes them even more formidable.
"The pool of talent we have got now is really good and there are so many young Tongans coming through the NRL who want to be a part of what we are doing going forward," Woolf said.
"It is great that guys like Ata Hingano and Saliva Havili, in particular, are playing regular first grade for Canberra. They have played almost every game this year.
"It is also great to see a guy like Sione Katoa playing the hooking role at Penrith, and Tui has certainly played a lot more first grade since moving to the Tigers than he was at the Warriors."