The seeds for Mate Ma'a Tonga's international revolution may have been sown more than a decade ago when many of the team taking on Australia in Saturday's historic Test at Mt Smart Stadium first pulled on a red jersey.

Jason Taumalolo, David Fusitu'a, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Tuimoala Lolohea, Saliva Havili and Ata Hingano all played for Tonga junior teams in end of season tournaments in Auckland.

Other players who wore a Tonga jersey at a young age included Manu Ma'u, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Sam Moa.

Fusitu'a's father Edwin, who is involved with Hakula Tonga Aotearoa Rugby League, told NRL.com that the Telstra Premiership's leading try scorer played in the end-of-season carnivals from under 11s to under 16s.

In his first year with Tonga in 2005, Lolohea was playing under 10s, Taumalolo and Havila were in the under 12s team, Taukeiaho and Murdoch-Masila were under 14s team-mates and Ma'u and Moa were in older teams, while Hingano was in one of the youngest sides.

"I remember Jason Taumalolo clearly because he was a beast, even in under 12s," Edwin Fusitu'a said.

"Obviously the following year 'Fus' would go up to the next age group and so would all those other guys.

"It was a big deal, you could imagine Fus telling all his mates I play for Tonga, I am representing Tonga."

The young Tongan team in 2006.
The young Tongan team in 2006.

He believes the experience of representing Tonga at a young age was behind the decision of Taumalolo, Fusitu'a, Taukeiaho and Ma'u to turn their backs on New Zealand at last year's World Cup.

"Like every kid, you grow up wanting to play for the Kiwis or if you live in Australia you grow up wanting to play for the Kangaroos but somewhere along the lines the seeds of wanting to play for Tonga were sown," Fusitu'a said. "They were doing it when they were younger."

Since the success of Tonga at the World Cup, interest from juniors of Tongan heritage has skyrocketed.

Officials are keen to establish a Junior Mate Ma'a Tonga team, who would play the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis.

 

"We need to continue to ride this momentum, so that is one of the things that are in the pipeline," Fusitu'a said.

"The winner here just as much as Tonga is rugby league. We live in New Zealand, which is a rugby union country, and the passion that has been generated is absolutely awesome for the game.

"After the World Cup we decided to put in an under 18s team and the turnout was amazing. Rugby union kids turned up to play. In fact, I think half of our under 18s were rugby union kids.

"We couldn't believe the interest and it was the kids who were telling their parents 'we want to go and play rugby league and we want to play for Tonga'."

The Warriors host an annual junior Pacific Cup for under 16s and under 18s teams each January and Hakula Tonga Aotearoa won the younger age group this year.

The organisation has also formed a relationship with Canterbury, who held coaching clinics for under 13-14s players, while Sydney Roosters have been conducting camps for junior players in Auckland.