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Tuimoala Lolohea is embracing the challenge presented by being the only genuine half named in Mate Ma'a Tonga's team to take on New Zealand in the opening game of the Oceania Cup this Saturday in Auckland. 

With usual halves partner Ata Hingano still recovery from a dislocated shoulder suffered while playing for Tonga against Australia last year, Lolohea has been named in the halves alongside North Queensland forward John Asiata.

While Asiata has played plenty of football in the halves – including starting six matches at five-eighth for the Cowboys this year – much of the game management and general play kicking responsibility will sit with Lolohea come Saturday.

"[John] can kind of control a game, I think maybe [I'll just need to be] taking last play onboard myself and getting good kicks away," Lolohea said.

"With Ata it was a bit easier, he's a left-footer and the left side of the field is natural for him.

"It's maybe that part of the game where I need to stick my hand up and make sure I am getting the best possible kick away for the team.

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"I think that just comes down to a bit of game management.

"My kicking game has been pretty good at the moment, so I just need to continue that good form with kicking. 

"[John's] one of those middle forwards that are really skilful, and I think he has been good for the Cowboys too while playing in the halves.

"He's had a couple of games playing there and getting himself familiar with the position."

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Now playing for the Leeds Rhinos in the UK Super League, Lolohea said he had come to terms with the fact that he probably wouldn't be selected for the mid-season representative clash this year.

But when it became clear Hingano wouldn't be available for selection, Tonga coach Kristian Woolf put in an SOS call to Leeds, who agreed to release Lolohea for the week.

"It was 50-50 [if I'd play], I was ready if I wasn't allowed," Lolohea said.

"I told them that my first priority is Leeds Rhinos, that's my contract, and if it was a no that's what it is.

"It was a bit difficult in this situation and there's no other English-based players playing this weekend, but with Ata going down and being injured there was really no half.

"Woolfy had to go behind the scenes and message [Leeds director of rugby] Kevin Sinfield.

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"We had a talk about it and Kevin supports international footy, he has been there and done that and knows what it feels like, so I was really lucky and blessed to be able to get this opportunity to come home.

"Any chance I get to play for Tonga I will stick my hand up straight away.

"All I can do now is try and reward the coaching staff."

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