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Tonga and Samoa facing off in 2013.

When you awaken a sleeping giant there is bound to be collateral damage.

As Tonga closed in on a drought-breaking win over Pacific Island rivals Samoa in the first Pacific Test in Penrith in April 2013, the exuberant red army of Tongan supporters could no longer be contained.

A few made their way onto the field as Samisoni Langi lined up the conversion of his own try six minutes from full-time, one getting so far as to be able to give Langi a congratulatory pat on the back before departing in his best 'Hayne Plane' impression.

Order was eventually restored but when Mahe Fonua crossed wide out with 82 seconds left the emotion got the better of a Tongan supporter base that six years later is recognised as the most passionate in international rugby league.

With the score-line reading 36-4 and Langi unable to weave through the mass of people in order to take the conversion the Test failed to reach its full conclusion, but it set in motion a rugby league movement that has changed the face of the international game.

On Wednesday morning, coach Kristian Woolf will release a preliminary 24-man Tongan squad to play New Zealand in Auckland next Saturday with the final makeup of the team to be decided following the completion of the round 14 NRL matches on Sunday.

Samisoni Langi celebrates a Tonga try against Samoa in 2013.
Samisoni Langi celebrates a Tonga try against Samoa in 2013. ©NRL Photos

Sparked by the scenes of that night six years ago, it is a team that has grown in stature every year since to the point where for the first time in the nation's history they will play the Kiwis, Kangaroos and Great Britain Lions all within a calendar year.

It's a scenario Brent Kite could not have envisaged when he ended a 13-year absence to captain the team in 2013 and mobilised an armada of Mate Ma'a Tonga supporters.

"We felt like we were on the bottom bunk even to Samoa back then so to get the win that night was very pleasing," Kite told

"One thing about that Pacific Test is that it's a really well-supported game and even if Tonga loses they'll be there trying to get on TV and enjoying the festivities.

"They lapped it up and couldn't contain themselves. It was a bit of a throwback to yesteryear where the fans used to do that."

The flags that painted both Waikato and Mt Smart stadiums red during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup continued the tidal wave of support building behind the team, momentum that has seen the likes of Jason Taumalolo, Sioiua Taukeiaho, Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai jnr commit to the team long-term ahead of possible Kangaroos, Kiwis and Origin jerseys.

Working as an assistant coach to Charlie Tonga at the time, the April night when they ran onto Panthers Stadium gave Woolf his first exposure to the passion of the Tongan fans, passion that has the power to bring airports to a standstill.

While Woolf and his players reveled in the 1am welcome from some 5,000 fans that they received at Auckland airport after defeating the Kiwis during the World Cup, they must now schedule fan days prior to Tests to lessen the impact on New Zealand's largest airport.

"There's nothing better than getting off the plane at 1am in Auckland during the World Cup and seeing 4,000, 5,000 people waiting for you. There's nothing better than that," said Woolf.

Tonga fans swarm the field late in the 2013 win against Samoa.
Tonga fans swarm the field late in the 2013 win against Samoa. ©NRL Photos

A Tongan fan day will take place at Mt Smart Stadium next Monday.

"It just has too much of an impact on the airport and everyone else at the airport, particularly other passengers," he added.

"The fan days have less of an impact on other people but it's by no means a token gesture. They're really important to the players because it gives them a chance to say thanks and connect with our fans.

"That game in 2013 was my first experience and that was the game when the crowd ran on and we couldn't finish the game. They ran onto the field with a couple of minutes to go and that was my first experience and exposure to the passion behind it all.

"I've had plenty of friends come to Tongan games since and they compare it as being very similar if not better than a State of Origin atmosphere.

"There are plenty of people that I know who are coming back to the game who have no connection to Tonga but they just want to be part of the whole atmosphere created by the fans and the cultural side that comes with it as well.

"It's certainly different and it's different in a really good way."

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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