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Legal action withdrawn, helping pave way for Tonga to reunite

International Rugby League officials have welcomed the withdrawal of legal action by the Tongan National Rugby League leading into Saturday’s Oceania Cup Test against Australia at Eden Park.

The decision has resulted in the lifting of an injunction imposed by the Supreme Court of Tonga against the Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League, which was recently formed after the IRL’s suspended the TNRL.

The legal wrangling sparked confusion over the status of the Kristian Woolf-coached team, which reaffirmed their standing as an international force by beating Great Britain last Saturday after they were forced to play as the Tonga Invitational XIII. 

An IRL investigation will determine which body is recognised as the official governing body of the game in Tonga but IRL Southern Hemisphere general manager Jeremy Edwards said the court ruling was a positive development.

Match Highlights: Tonga Invitational v Great Britain

"It is good news for international rugby league as we can move forward now and focus on developing the game in the Pacific nations rather than wasting money on legal fees," Edwards said.

"The IRL is trying to grow the game in the Pacific and we needed to take the steps we did to ensure the viability of the Oceania Cup and the Great Britain Rugby League Lions tour."

With Tonga’s World Cup stars boycotting after the shock decision to sack Woolf, the TNRL was unable to fulfil the conditions of its participation agreement by fielding a competitive team as its only confirmed players were the Folau brothers, Israel and John, and Manu Vatuvei.

Local clubs were established the Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League but the TNRL took legal action to prevent any other body appointing coaching staff, selecting players or using the name Mate Ma’a Tonga.

The IRL believes Supreme Court judge Lord Chief Justice Whitten made it clear in his ruling on Tuesday that the international body has sole responsibility for deciding which organisation controls the game in Tonga.

The TMTRL is free to develop strategic and commercial partnerships and can apply to the IRL for membership status as the governing body in Tonga.

However, no decision will be made until the conclusion of the IRL’s investigation, with the findings expected to be considered by a board meeting early next year.

In the meantime, Woolf’s team will continue to play as the Tonga Invitational XIII, with all matches having been afforded official Test status.

After last weekend’s 14-6 defeat of the Lions in Hamilton, officials have reported strong ticket sales for Saturday night’s triple header at Eden Park.

Besides the Tonga-Australia clash, Samoa will play Fiji in an Oceania Cup pool B match, while New Zealand host the Lions in the first of two Tests between the teams.

The winner of the Samoa-Fiji match is expected to join Tonga and the Kiwis in pool A of next year’s Oceania Cup, as Australia is committed to a Kangaroo tour of the UK at the end of next season.

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