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Kiwis plan Tests against Tonga and Kangaroos before World Cup

New Zealand are preparing to play Tonga on June 26 and Australia at the end of the season in international double-headers that would also feature the Kiwi Ferns.

After a year in which the only international fixtures were a men’s Test between Netherlands and Germany and a women’s double-header in which the Kiwi Ferns beat Fetu Samoa and Tonga downed Niue, officials are hoping a full calendar of matches can be played in 2021.

A standalone representative round has been included in the NRL draw, with no club matches scheduled on the weekend set aside for State Origin II on June 27 and NZRL CEO Greg Peters confirmed the Kiwis were planning to play Tonga the previous night.

The mid-year Test is likely to be contingent on the establishment of a trans-Tasman travel bubble and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said earlier this week the airline was anticipating Australia and New Zealand opening their borders to each other in early 2021.

If the June 26 Test goes ahead, Peters said the Kiwi Ferns would also play as part of a double-header, while it is hoped matches could be scheduled for Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Cook Islands to also play on the standalone representative weekend.

The majority of the Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Cook Islands squads play in the NRL, while the PNG Hunters are relocating to Queensland next season.

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"We want to play Tonga again and for the Kiwi Ferns to play a yet to be determined opposition," Peters said.

"That is subject to quarantine-free travel because we still couldn’t do it if we had to quarantine at this end [in New Zealand] but by the first quarter of next year I am hoping that we can be in a position where the New Zealand and Australian borders are a little freer."

Planning was also underway for the New Zealand teams to meet the Kangaroos and Jillaroos at the end of the season ahead of the 2021 World Cup in England.

This season was the first in which Australia and New Zealand haven’t played each other since 1997 when the nations were on opposite sides of the Super League war and an annual trans-Tasman Test is included in the NRL broadcast deal.

With the standalone representative weekend coinciding with State of Origin, the Kangaroos and Kiwis would need to play after the October 3 grand final and before the World Cup, which starts on October 23 with the host nation playing Samoa in Newcastle and Australia taking on Fiji in Hull.

New Zealand’s first match is on October 24 against Lebanon at Warrington and if the Kiwis and Kangaroos are both unbeaten during the pool rounds and win their quarter-finals they will meet for a place in the final.

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"That is definitely our plan," Peters said. "It might be a little unusual given that if we all play according to how we hope at the World Cup we would meet Australia in the semi-final and one of us will be going home.

"But with this year being the first time we didn’t play each other for a number of years it is really important we get that game happening next year so we are excited about that."

New Zealand officials last week had a virtual tour of facilities in York where the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns will be based during the World Cup and Peters said there was confidence the tournament would go ahead as scheduled.

"From a World Cup point of view they are going gangbusters," he said. "We have had a tour of facilities so they are really moving forward and the ticket ballot has gone particularly well. A lot of people from Australia and New Zealand are in the ballot.

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"The big concern is the freedom of travel and the ability to get back into our respective countries without quarantining but hopefully we are tracking in the right direction."

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said Tests weren’t included in the NRL draw as officials were waiting for the finalisation of an international calendar and confirmation that the World Cup would go ahead.

"We are thinking more broadly about how we reinvigorate the international calendar, not just for the Kangaroos but for all nations," Abdo said.

"We want compelling content following our grand final in an international window that actually gets fans to understand what is coming, so a four-year cycle where every year there is really interesting international content and meaningful matches.

"We are really fortunate that in our part of the world, in the Pacific, we have Tonga as an emerging nation, we have Fiji, Samoa and PNG. Helping to develop these nations with meaningful fixtures is strategically important for us.

"We haven’t answered those questions but the [ARL] Commission are very focused on it."