Tonga coach Kristian Woolf says his team has never been better positioned to threaten the Kangaroos heading into Saturday's Oceania Cup Test at Eden Park.
In another boost to morale following last Saturday's win over Great Britain in Hamilton, the Tonga team have welcomed the backing of their King and Prime Minister.
Despite being forced to play as the Tonga Invitational XIII after internal politics threatened to derail their end-of-season campaign, Woolf and his team received a message of support from Prime Minister Dr Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa.
"On behalf of His Majesty King Tupou VI, the Government and the People of Tonga, I respectfully express herein our warmest appreciation, gratitude and affection, to the Captain and Members of the Tonga Rugby League Invitational XIII, individually, and to the Coach, for their great victory and triumph over the Great Britain Lions last Saturday," Tu'i'onetoa said.
Pumbaa': Andrew Fifita explains new nickname
"May the fountain of the Omnipotent Divinities, who died for the people, including Tonga, to continue to bless and inspire you all, as you prepare for this week's game."
The statement, which was posted on the Tongan government website, comes after the withdrawal of legal action by the Tonga National Rugby League.
Woolf said that if the dispute with the TNRL - who lost the support of the players after sacking him - had not been resolved, the giant strides Tonga made at the 2017 World Cup would have been at risk.
"The important thing is that we are all here. Last weekend was a great occasion for us and a great occasion for international rugby league," Woolf said.
Australia v Tonga Invitational
With Tests this season against New Zealand, Great Britain and Australia, Woolf said Tonga finally had an international program that would benefit them.
After last weekend's 14-6 triumph against the Lions, Tonga have beaten two of the game's top three nations in the past two years. They now have their sights set on completing that list by toppling Australia.
"I think we have gotten better and better every time we have got together," Woolf said.
"What we have had this year in terms of opportunities has been outstanding. We come in really, really well prepared for this game.
"We have had almost two-and-a-half weeks together now and coming off the back of a game and a performance we were really happy with last weekend certainly puts us in the best position we have been in."
The Kangaroos will secure the inaugural Oceania Cup Trophy unless they lose by 22 points or more. Despite the buffer, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said they could not afford to underestimate Tonga.
"I think you always go into games, particularly at this level, with a fear of failure," Meninga said. "That has been a common theme with the Kangaroos for a long time.
"Our mental preparation and physicality has to be good to play against the Tongans. They were extraordinarily good last week and played with so much passion. We have to prepare really well to match the Tongans tomorrow night."
Tonga prop Siosiua Taukeiaho was man of the match against Great Britain after carrying the ball for 254 metres and making 43 tackles, and he made little secret of Tonga’s game plan against Australia.
"Just playing our style of game," Taukeiaho said.
Asked if that would be through the middle, he replied with a big grin: "Yep".
"It would mean the world to us [to beat the Kangaroos], the plan for us is to go out there and play good footy and hopefully our fans will turn out as well," he said.
Australian captain Boyd Cordner said the performance of his Sydney Roosters team-mate against the Lions was no surprise to him and praised Taukeiaho for his role in Tonga’s rise as an international powerhouse.
"The passion that they show as fans and the pride they have in their country, it's a credit to them what they have been able to do and you have got to credit Siosiua, Kristian and the boys for creating that," Cordner said.
"They are a hell of a footy team."