Daniel Tupou has revealed that he rejected an approach from Blues coach Brad Fittler last season so he could play for Tonga and remains committed to the island Kingdom for the 2021 World Cup.
The Roosters winger is one of eight members of NSW’s 27-man State of Origin squad also eligible for a Pacific nation, along with Junior Paulo, Stephen Crichton, Jarome Luai, Payne Haas (Samoa), Daniel Saifiti and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Fiji) and Tyson Frizell (Tonga).
The Maroons have 10 players who qualify for one of the Pacific nations – Jaydn Su’a, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Josh Papalii, Dunamis Lui and Hymel Hunt (Samoa), Moeaki Fotuaika, Brenko Lee and Felise Kaufusi (Tonga), Xavier Coates (Papua New Guinea) and Valentine Holmes (Cook Islands).
While the likes of Frizell, Papalii, Kaufusi, Haas and Holmes have been regular members of the NSW or Queensland teams, Tupou chose to play for Tonga when Origin clashed with mid-season Test against New Zealand (2019) and Samoa (2018).
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However, the cancellation of this year’s Oceania Cup due to COVID-19 has enabled dual-eligible players such as Tupou, Luai and Fotuaika to play Origin.
"Freddy has been trying to get me for a while now and obviously not having a game for Tonga this year I told him I would put my hand up," Tupou said.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
"The World Cup is the plan but Freddy gave me the green light and said I would still be available to play next year for Tonga.
"It is pretty hard having to choose, but knowing that the opportunity for me to play international footy next year is still there and that I would still be eligible [for Tonga] I was glad to play."
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Luai was a shock selection for NSW after captaining the Junior Kiwis in 2017 and recently declaring: "My heart is with Samoa".
However, the Penrith five-eighth, who has played six Tests for Samoa, remains eligible for the island nation at the 2021 World Cup, along with Paulo, Crichton, Su’a, Fa’asuamaleaui, Lui and Hunt.
To qualify for Origin a player must reside in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 and Fittler said dual-eligible players shouldn’t have to choose between state and country.
"You can’t compare our sport to any other sport because it is played where it is and our players come from these regions," Fittler said.
"Jarome Luai is born in Mt Druitt and grew up in Mt Druitt but he is Samoan and played for the Junior Kiwis so we are different. Daniel Tupou was born here, grew up here, went to school here and was nurtured here so he shouldn’t have to choose.
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"Guys like Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Tevita Pangai … there are a whole host of them - Queenslanders and New South Welshmen – who are eligible for Tonga and other nations so we need to make sure that they can represent who they want to represent.
"Tonga have now beaten New Zealand, they have beaten Great Britain and they have beaten Australia so what they have done for international football is unbelievable. But Origin is Origin and if they are born here they should be eligible."