Tonga national rugby league team
The Tonga national rugby league team represents Tonga in rugby league football. They are currently the 4th ranked team in the world, and the highest ranked tier-two nation. The team was formed to compete in the 1986 Pacific Cup, and have competed at five Rugby League World Cups, starting in 1995 and continuing consecutively until the most recent tournament in 2017, where they achieved their best ever result as semi-finalists.
|Nickname||Mate Ma'a Tonga (MMT)|
|Governing body||Tonga National Rugby League|
|Head coach||Kristian Woolf|
|Most caps||Duane Mann (16)|
| Western Samoa 16–34 Tonga |
(Rarotonga, Cook Islands; 29 October 1986)
| Tonga 64–0 Tokelau |
(Auckland, New Zealand; 23 February 2006)
| New Zealand 74–0 Tonga |
(Auckland, New Zealand; 22 October 1999)
|Appearances||5 (first time in 1995)|
|Best result||Semi-finalists: 2017|
Administered by the Tonga National Rugby League, the team wears a predominately red uniform with white sides. They are associated with the phrase Mate Ma'a Tonga (English: Die for Tonga). They are coached by Australian Kristian Woolf, and co-captained by William Hopoate and Jason Taumalolo.
- 1 History
- 2 Players
- 3 International results
- 4 Honours
- 5 Kit supplier
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Rugby league first gained attention in Tonga when the Pacific Cup was partially held in the country during 1986. After this initial exposure to the Tongan people several clubs began to form or switch from rugby union to rugby league and by 1988 the nation had enough depth in their player pool to begin playing national fixtures and entered the 1988 Pacific Cup competition held in Apia, Samoa. During that Pacific Cup the Tongans played in three fixtures winning a sole match while losing the other two, with their first international victory coming against the American Samoa side a match that ended 38–14.
Over the next two years the national side sporadically played international fixtures but it was not until the 1992 Pacific Cup when they again began playing with some regularity. At the 1992 Cup competition the side showed significant improvement on their previous inaugural cup effort with victories over Niue, Cook Islands, Fiji and the New Zealand Maori. This run of victories earned them a place in the final of the 1992 Pacific Cup against the Western Samoan side but they eventually lost a close fought match by four points 18–14. The following tournament two years later saw the Tongan side show further improvement with several comfortable victories again earning them a spot in final of the Pacific Cup this time against the Fijians who had never defeated the Tongans at that time. The final was a tough affair but the Mate Ma'a were again victorious over Fiji 34–11 and claimed their maiden Pacific Cup title.
|Official Men's Rankings as of July 2019|
|10||Papua New Guinea|
|*Change from December 2018|
During 1995 Tonga qualified for their first World Cup and were seeded in the strong group B with both New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. While Tonga failed to win a match at the World Cup they earned respect after they narrowly lost to the New Zealand team by a single point and earnt a draw against Papua New Guinea.
The next four years saw the Tongan side appear in a further Pacific Cup in 1997 and then qualify for the 2000 World Cup with comfortable victories over the Cook Islands, Tokelau and American Samoa. Prior to appearing at the 2000 competition the Tongans arranged a friendly fixture against the New Zealand side that they had come so close to defeating during the previous World Cup but this time faced their heaviest defeat to date going down 74-0 and suffering a large dent in confidence prior to the competition.
After the heavy defeat to New Zealand their next international fixture was during their second World Cup where the Tongans were again placed in another tough group with France, Papua New Guinea again and the South Africans. Tonga faced South Africa in their first match of the tournament where they were comfortable victors in a 66–18 drubbing, however the rest of the tournament was not so kind to the Tongan side with losses to both France and Papua New Guinea meaning the Tongans again failed to make it past the first stage of the tournament.
With a disappointing World Cup behind them the Mate Ma'a regrouped and again enter the Pacific Cup four years later in 2004. The tournament saw the Tongans again qualify for the tournament final with victories over both the Cook Islands and Fiji but the side suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of neighbouring Samoa 51-18. 2006 saw the Tongan side re-enter the Pacific Cup where again they performed strongly qualifying for their second consecutive final where this time they reversed their previous effort with a strong victory over Fiji 22–4 giving them their second Pacific Cup title. 2006 continued to be a busy year of international fixtures for the Tongans which saw them gain qualification into the 2008 World Cup after they finished top of their Pacific group ahead of the Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoa and then defeat the Samoans 18–10 in the qualifying final. They also entered the inaugural Federation Shield competition along with England, France and Samoa and eventually finish second. England to face Tonga in League final to the English in the final 32–14 after they had defeated both France and Samoa.
2013 Pacific Rugby League TestEdit
In April 2013, Tonga took on Samoa in the '2013 Pacific Rugby League Test' at Penrith Stadium. The International was created as a World Cup warm-up match. Tonga targeted Samoa's weak defence, and it paid off, thrashing the Toa Samoans by 36–4.
2013 Rugby League World Cup campaignEdit
Tonga automatically qualified for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup after participating in the 2008 tournament. They took on Scotland, Italy and the Cook Islands in the pool stage. In their first match they took on 'the Scots'. It was a tight and intense rugby league battle, but it was the Scots who eventually prevailed, winning 26–24. Tonga then went on and beat 'the Kukis', 22–16, and Italy, 16–0, but it wasn't enough. Scotland finished the group stage unbeaten, sealing their place in the quarter-final and ending Tonga's World Cup campaign in the process.
2015 Pacific Rugby League TestEdit
In May 2015, Tonga took on Samoa in the 2015 Polynesian Cup at Cbus Super Stadium. The International was part of a triple header which also included the Melanesian Cup, between Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and the Junior Kangaroos against the Junior Kiwis. The game was an absolute thriller with the lead alternating between the teams and the biggest margin throughout the match was only 6 points. However, there was always going to be one winner in the see-saw affair and it was Samoa who upended Mate Ma'a Tonga to win the Polynesian Cup by 18–16.
2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifyingEdit
In October 2015, Tonga took on the Cook Islands in the Asia-Pacific elimination play-off to determine which of the two Asia-Pacific nations qualified for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. After a tight first half, Mate Ma'a Tonga went on win the match scoring 16 points within the last 20 minutes of the game.
2016 Pacific Rugby League TestEdit
In May 2016, Tonga took on Samoa in the 2016 Polynesian Cup at Pirtek Stadium. The International was part of a triple header which also included the Melanesian Cup, between Papua New Guinea and Fiji, and the Junior Kangaroos against the Junior Kiwis. The traditional pacific rivalry between these two continued as they produced highlights from big hits, to powerful meters, and try-saving tackles when needed. However this year's test-match saw way more errors than last year's and Tonga made most of them and failed to capitalize on their 55% of possession, which therefore resulted in a 12-point defeat in the 2016 Polynesian Cup.
Tonga fielded their strongest ever team at the 2017 World Cup on the back of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita choosing to represent their parental heritage rather than their respective birthplaces, New Zealand and Australia. Taumalolo, the joint 2016 Dally M Medallist, was described by Fox Sports to be the "undisputed best forward in the NRL" and was expected to be named in the New Zealand squad, while Fifita withdrew from the already-named Australian squad after waiting for Taumalolo's announcement, having told him privately a few days earlier "if you make the commitment, I'll make the commitment." Taumalolo referenced his close relationship with Tongan coach Kristian Woolf and his desire to strengthen the Tongan squad as motivators, while Fifita cited a desire to give back to his father's family.
In addition, Manu Maʻu declined a likely position in the New Zealand squad, while David Fusitu'a, Solomone Kata, Tuimoala Lolohea, and Sio Siua Taukeiaho dismissed any possibility of a New Zealand re-call in order to represent Tonga. With a mixed heritage, Michael Jennings also committed himself to Tonga after knocking back an approach to represent Fiji.
Bolstered by tier-one quality players, Tonga quickly became the most heavily backed team in the World Cup, dropping from $81 odds to $17. Entering into the tournament as the 11th ranked team in the world, Tonga comfortably won their opening two group matches, outclassing Scotland 50–4 and Samoa 32–18. In their third and final group match, Tonga upset New Zealand 28–22 after trailing 16–2 at half-time. This marked the first time since the introduction of the tiered-nation system that a tier-two team defeated a tier-one team, and the first time since Wales defeated England 18–16 in 1995 if applied retroactively. Tonga beat Lebanon 24–22 in a hard-fought quarter-final, but lost 18–20 to England in the semi-final. England were leading 20–0 with 8 minutes remaining before Tonga scored three tries in quick succession, however, a contentious refereeing decision on the last play of the game denied them from progressing to the World Cup final.
After Tonga's semi-final against England, which was attended by King Tupou VI, 29 November 2018 was declared a public holiday in Tonga as Mate Ma'a Tonga Day and the entire Tongan squad was invited to the Royal Palace. Each player was honoured as Knight Commander of the Most Illustrious Order of Queen Sālote Tupou III for their contribution to sports, while Taumalolo and Lolohea were gifted land in their families' respective villages. At the conclusion of the tournament, Tonga jumped to 4th in the RLIF world rankings.
|“||Playing for the Kangaroos is the pinnacle in rugby league. If you make that team, you’re up there with the best in the world in your position... But it’s a very different feeling playing for Tonga. There’s more emotion in the Tongan jersey. You know what your family has been through and you think about them every time you put it on.||”|
|— Michael Jennings, |
Media speculation questioned whether Tonga's star players would return to their tier-one nations after the World Cup, assuming they were to be welcomed back. In the months following, Fifita, an incumbent of the New South Wales squad, Tevita Pangai Junior and Jennings announced they would make themselves unavailable for NSW selection to continue with Tonga, while New Zealand-eligible players Lolohea, Kata, Fusitu'a, and Taumalolo also publicly confirmed their alleigance to Tonga ahead of their match against Samoa on 23 June 2018. Additionally, Addin Fonua-Blake announced his intention to represent Tonga after playing for New Zealand at the World Cup, commenting "I really enjoyed my time with the Kiwis but it just didn't feel like home." As a consequence, New Zealand's squad for their match against England on 24 June 2018 contained just one Tongan-eligible player, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who reportedly pledged his loyalty to the Kiwis to honour his great-grandfather Puti Tipene Watene, the first Māori to captain the side.
On 5 September 2018, it was confirmed that Mate Ma’a Tonga were to play a historical test against the Australian Kangaroos. It would be the first ever time Tonga will play Australia in a rugby league test match. The fixture was played on 20 October 2018 at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand with Andrew Fifita leading the sipi tau in front of a sold-out crowd. The Kangaroos held off a spirited challenge from the Mate Ma'a to win 36-14.
2021 World CupEdit
Former Notable PlayersEdit
Since rugby league has been introduced to the nation of Tonga in 1986 many players of Tongan birth or heritage have gone on to attain notability by participating in domestic rugby-league club competitions globally but mostly in NRL and Super League both top-level domestic rugby-league club competitions and known internationally. Also they attain notability in representing Tonga, other nations (Mainly Australia or New Zealand) or including other nations. A list of seventeen former notable players below that have appeared in top-level domestic rugby-league club competitions (NRL & Super League) and played internationally for Tonga and including other nations between 1986 & 2018:
|Player||International Team(s) Represented||Rugby League World Cup Appearances|
|Martin Masella (Captained)||Tonga (1995-2000)||1995 & 2000|
|Tevita Vaikona||Tonga (1995-2000)||1995 & 2000|
|Lopini Paea (Captained)||Tonga (2005-2010)||2008|
|Etu Uaisele||Tonga (2006-2013)||2008|
|Feleti Mateo||Tonga (2006-2016)||2008|
|John Hopoate||Tonga (1994), Australia (1995)||1995 (Represented Australia)|
|Jim Dymock||Tonga (1994-1995), Australia (1995-1996)||1995 (Represented Australia)|
|Willie Mason||Tonga (2000), Australia (2002-2008)||2000|
|Brent Kite (Captained)||Tonga (2000-2013), Australia (2006-2009)||2000,2008 (Represented Australia) & 2013|
|Antonio Kaufusi||Tonga (2008), Australia (2006)||2008|
|Duane Mann (Captained)||Tonga (1986-2000), New Zealand (1989-1994)||1995 & 2000|
|George Mann||Tonga (1986-1995),New Zealand (1989-1991)||1995|
|Awen Guttenbeil||Tonga (1995-2008), New Zealand (2002-2005)||1995 & 2008|
|Fuifui Moimoi||Tonga (2006-2013), New Zealand (2007-2011)||2013|
|Epalahame Lauaki||Tonga (2008-2010), New Zealand (2007)||2008|
|Tevita Latu||Tonga (2008-2010), New Zealand (2004)||2008|
|Sika Manu (Captained)||Tonga (2013-2018), New Zealand (2008-2011)||2008 (Represented New Zealand),2013 & 2017|
The following table underneath shows Tonga's all-time rugby league results record. They have been participating in International fixtures since 1986.
Tonga have played 92 internationals with the most recent being played on 22 June 2019 against New Zealand in the 2019 Oceania Cup.
|New Zealand XIII||1||0||0||1||0%||1997|
|Papua New Guinea||8||0||1||7||0%||1995-2014|
Tonga have played in every world cup since the tournament was expanded in 1995, a total of five tournaments. Tonga reached the semi-finals of the 2017 world cup having beaten New Zealand in the group stage to top the standings and losing by just two points to England in the semi-final. Due to reaching the knock-out stages of the 2017 competition, Tonga have qualified for the 2021 world cup which will be held in England.
|World Cup Record|
|1954||Did not enter|
|1995||Group Stage||7th out of 10||2||0||1||1|
|2000||Group Stage||9th out of 16||3||1||0||2|
|2008||Group Stage||7th out of 10||3||2||0||1|
|2013||Group Stage||9th out of 14||3||2||0||1|
|2017||Semi-final||3rd out of 14||5||4||0||1|
Tonga's kit suppliers are ISC since 2018. Classic (1995 RLWC), Mitre (2000 RLWC), Kombat (2004-2005), KooGa (2006–2012) and Fi-ta (2013–2018) were previous suppliers. Today's current kit suppliers is dynasty sports.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tonga national rugby league team.|
- 1992 Pacific Cup (New Zealand) Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine International Competitions Website Retrieved on 18 May 2007.
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- Latu, Kalino (27 November 2017). "Mate Ma'a Tonga players to receive royal award from King Tupou VI". KanivaTonga. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
- "'In a big way I'm proud' - RLWC hero Jason Taumalolo and team decked out in traditional dress for ceremony with Tongan king". tvnz. 29 November 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
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- "Andrew Fifita chooses Tonga over NSW Blues, Australian Kangaroos after secret meeting". Daily Telegraph. 31 March 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- "Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Junior chooses Tonga over New South Wales and State of Origin". Courier Mail. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Newton, Alicia (2 May 2018). "Jennings commits to Tonga over Blues". NRL.com. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Newton, Alicia (26 January 2018). "Lolohea set to stick with Tonga over Kiwis". NRL.com. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Thomas, Jackson (16 May 2018). "Kata commits to Tonga while Fusitu'a remains undecided". NRL.com. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- "David Fusitu'a sticks with Tonga over Kiwis". stuff.co.nz. 5 June 2018. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
- "Taumalolo recommits to Tonga". cowboys.com.au. 13 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Kermeen, Mat (6 June 2018). "Change of heart for Addin Fonua-Blake as Tonga wins tug-of-war". stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- Newton, Alicia (20 June 2018). "Envy drives Fonua-Blake home as Tonga eyes top tier". NRL.com. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
- Rattue, Chris (20 June 2018). "I hope Tongan league players are not forever lost to the Kiwis". NZ Herald. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
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- "Woolf to coach full strength Tonga in end-of-season Tests". nrl.com. 10 October 2019.