For too long, Australia, England and New Zealand have dominated the rankings, with smaller Pacific nations and European minnows forced to sit in the shadows as the powerful trio battled it out for global supremacy.
But Tonga’s bid to shake up the international game as they close in on tier one status is gaining steam.
“I want to play a part in making Tonga a top-three nation,” Tevita Pangai tells Big League.
“To do that we’ve got to beat the best teams, and we’re getting that chance now. Playing tier-one nations means you’ve got to go out and perform, and if we want to play more of these matches, we have to make sure we play well consistently.”
Roosters prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho was one of the players who switched allegiances from New Zealand to Tonga, and believes his side must capitalise on high-profile Tests such as Saturday’s clash if they want to be taken seriously.
“That’s our main goal – that’s why some of us left the Kiwis to come back to Tonga,” he says.
“Our goal was to put our little nation back on the map and to let other teams know we’re coming for them. We’re still targeting the other tier one nations, and that’ll be the goal until we get there. It’s one thing to put on a show and embrace the culture, but we know there’s a lot more at stake and that’s what we’re working towards.”
While the attention has predominately been on Tonga, neighbours Samoa are starting to show their own signs of a patriotic resurgence, with Martin Taupau and Jamayne Isaako making themselves available for this weekend’s clash with Papua New Guinea.
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It’s a move that has received strong support from the Tongans, who want to see other Pacific nations take the fight to their more fancied rivals.
“It’s not only us; there are other small nations who are starting to build,” Taukeiaho says. “The tide is starting to turn. If you want to grow the game internationally then you need players playing for their nations.”
For Pangai, the way forward is simple.
“If we can do it, then the Samoans can do it as well,” he says. “It’s good to see a leader from the Kiwis like Martin Taupau switch teams to represent his Samoan side. It’s good for the international game and it makes these Tests more interesting and competitive. Seeing countries like Tonga and Samoa getting stronger means we won’t just see Australia, New Zealand and England playing in finals.”
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