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King Tupou VI told Mate Ma'a Tonga players about the deeds of warriors led by his ancestor, King Tupou I, during a private reception at his Auckland residence ahead of Saturday's historic Test against Australia at Mt Smart Stadium.

In a break from usual Tongan royal protocol, King Tupou VI went outside to greet the players as they arrived at "Atalanga" and he later spoke directly to them during a private sitting in which his daughter Princess Latufuipeka and three talking chiefs were the only other people in attendance.

Usually, the king only speaks through a talking chief but he spoke directly to the players as he outlined how King Tupou I had prepared his warriors for battle during a civil war in Tonga, which lasted more than 50 years from 1799.

King Tupou VI then shook hands with each member of the Mate Ma'a Tonga squad, who will play the Kangaroos for the first time before a sea of red at Mt Smart Stadium after the Test was officially sold out earlier this week.

"Usual Tongan protocol is that His Majesty waits inside the house and when we are ready to take the photo he will come out and join us but yesterday he was so excited and eager to greet them that when he knew the bus was parked outside the gate he came out just to see the team arrive," Princess Latufuipeka told

"His Majesty waited there until they were ready before he joined them in the photo. He not only loves them but he supports them and he gave them a word of encouragement."

The meeting was organised by Pakilau O Aoteroa Manase Lua, who was appointed by the Tongan National Rugby League to work with the NRL on preparations for the match.

Lua, who is from the same village as Mate Ma'a Tonga captain Sika Manu but lives in Auckland, also acted as a talking chief on behalf of the team at the reception with King Tupou VI.

"Everyone else was outside, no one else was allowed in. It was a private audience. You had the king's guards outside the door but other than that it was just the management of the team, the coaching staff, the players, the king, the princess Her Royal Highness, and the talking chiefs," Lua said

"We did the exchange of speeches, which is customary and then, very uniquely, because this hardly ever happens, the king addressed the players. Usually, the king speaks through his talking chiefs, he never speaks directly, so this was a very unique honour for the team that he actually addressed them directly.

Kangaroos v Tonga preview

"He told them about his ancestor, King Tupou I, and how he and his warriors would prepare for battle. He gave the boys tips. What I can share is that the king was very, very passionate and he gave the boys some real rev up statements about how his ancestor prepared for war.

"When the King talked about the preparation of the warriors and his ancestors when they conquered the whole of Tonga, the players were listening intently. The king gave some tips on how Tupou I managed to motivate his troops so all of those tips he shared with the boys.

"For the boys, this was something that probably would have surprised them but I think they took it all on board. Then they got to meet him, so they got to greet him, shake his hand and it was a learning experience for them culturally.

Princess of Tonga's message for the team

"A lot of them would never have had that opportunity before so it was great for them to be immersed in their culture. I think the whole experience was unique for them, a lot of them had never been to Atalanga before, let alone met the King and then heard the history."

King Tupou I established the Free Church of Tonga and a pastor from the church, Reverend 'Ifalame Teisi, will lead a prayer at Mt Smart Stadium before kick-off and after fulltime in the Test.

"Sport transcends religion but everyone in Tonga is religious and Christianity is a big part of our culture. We express hymns and prayers before anything," Lua said.

"What that does is remind the crowd that sure, this is a game but remember who you are, remember your behaviour, His Majesty will be there and the Royal Family, along with other dignitaries, and the world is watching. This has united the whole country and it is important that we maintain that."

There will be messages about disability and mental health on the big screen during the game, while Tongan fans are being urged to also support the Kangaroos as the Test would not have taken place if the players hadn't agreed to a pay cut.

"There are posts on social media, saying don't boo the Kangaroos," Lua said. "The Tongan community have a real soft spot for the NRL and the Kangaroos for making this game happen.

"We are going to make sure that it is an atmosphere that is fun, loud and we want support our boys but we want to support the Kangaroos too because at the end of the day it's a game that has bought our communities together."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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