Andrew Fifita says Saturday's historic Test against Australia is bigger than State of Origin and believes Mate Ma'a Tonga need to defeat the world champions in front of the King Tupou VI for their players to be afforded the same respect as Kangaroos stars by NRL clubs.
As he reflected on last year's decision to quit the Australian team and join Tonga for the World Cup, Fifita revealed he required two knee operations and indicated Cronulla officials had preferred him to forego the Test in Auckland so he could have the surgery sooner.
However, Fifita could not turn down the chance to play in Mata Ma'a Tonga's first Test against Australia and said the match was so significant the King of Tonga, Tupou VI, would be in the 30,000-strong crowd at Mt Smart Stadium – as he was for last year's controversial 20-18 World Cup semi-final loss to England.
"I guarantee this game for us is going to be bigger than an Origin game. Expect the atmosphere, because I know it is going to be a red sea out there," Fifita said.
Fifita: 'For us it will be bigger than Origin'
"This is the first game ever that our little island has got the chance to verse [the Kangaroos] and I am pretty sure that the King is coming out here, he had a kind of a say to get the game over the line.
"For a King to come out to a game is a massive honour. He is the head of our royal family and we always give thanks to our royal leader. I know how much he means to our family and our country. I never grew up in Tonga but half the boys did and I understand the meaning."
I just wish our little tier two nations could be recognised too.Andrew Fifita
After winning the Dally M prop of the year, Fifita's form would have warranted selection in the Kangaroos team had he not chosen to play for the birthplace of his father, Sione - a decision that has cost him his NSW jersey and more than $150,000 in representative payments.
However, the 29-year-old said the difference between Australian players and those who represent tier two nations was more than just financial rewards and he outlined how they were treated differently by clubs.
After revealing that he was booked in for a knee operation after the Test and another next month, Fifita was asked whether the Sharks wanted him to play when he raised the lack of acknowledgment for representing Tonga at the Pacific Test and after being chosen to play against the Kangaroos.
"If I was in the Australia team the club would be proud that I was in it [but] I am still waiting for my Instagram post that I am playing for Tonga from the club," he said. "I guess most of the boys want to be acknowledged as a force team.
"I remember our CEO sitting there [at the Cronulla presentation] and giving all the credits to all the Australian players and Junior Kangaroos, and I was waiting for my name to be called, just for representing on the international stage. There was no Tonga, no PNG for Chicko [James Segeyaro] and that.
"I just wish our little tier two nations could be recognised too. It is still our international team and we want to be recognised. I don't think we are there yet but if our team goes out and gets the job done on the weekend I guess we will be known as a forceful team."
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The decision of Fifita and New Zealand internationals Jason Taumalolo, David Fusitua, SioSiua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma'u to switch allegiances from tier one nations and play for Tonga has changed the face of the international game.
Fifita said he had initially been concerned about the fallout from withdrawing from the Kangaroos 2017 World Cup squad after it was announced and it wasn't until seeing how proud his father was that he knew he'd made the right call.
"I told him I made Australia, he shook my hand and congratulated me," Fifita said. "When I told dad I would represent Tonga and his parents he belted out the tears. I know how much it means to my family and me. I know how much it meant for my grandparents. It was a respect thing.
"I have had the pleasure to have played for the Indigenous [All Stars] and Australia. To have the pleasure to play for my dad, he cries every time I walk out onto the field in the red jersey.
"We copped a lot of criticism at first, especially from players, journos, Australian and New Zealand people. [But] I have two nationalities and if you don't have two nationalities you shouldn't talk about how I'm feeling.
"It's exciting times, we're growing the international game in the right way. It's not about three teams anymore. We challenged that last year. Everyone says thank you for doing it.
"We made the World Cup exciting. The crowds that happened in Australia, England, America and New Zealand showed we made the right decision. We made our little island proud."