Rugby League: Tonga test side named as 'Invitational XIII'

Tonga challenge the NZ Kiwis
Tonga challenge the NZ Kiwis. Photo credit: Photosport

A virtual full-strength Tongan rugby league side has been named to take on Great Britain and Australia - but it won't be known as Mate Ma'a Tonga.

And it won't feature rugby outcast Israel Folau either.

A 21-man Tonga Invitational squad, under the coaching of Kristian Woolf, will contest a one-off 'test' agains the Lions in Hamilton on October 26, followed by the Kangaroos in Auckland on November 2.

Seventeen of the players - including former Kiwis stars Jason Taumalolo and David Fusitu'a - helped the Pacific nation capture the hearts of rugby league fans two years ago, when they upset the NZ Kiwis in pool play and reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.

But recent upheavals threatened to derail the international fixtures, after the Tonga Rugby League Council sacked Woolf was sacked and prominent players sparked a boycott of the national side in protest.

Former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott was named to replace Woolf and Folau - whose sporting career was in tatters, after his homphobic outbursts on social media - was poised for a return to rugby league.

Two weeks ago, the Rugby League International Federation stepped in, deregistering the Tongan council, which has threatened legal action.

In the meantime, the 'rebel' Tonga selection hopes to retain the fans that have supported the official national team over the past two years.

"I'm excited to be getting back into camp with my teammates, now we have certainty that we will be playing these two test matches," says Taumalolo. 

"The best possible team will be taking the field and we know our match against Great Britain in Hamilton will be incredibly competitive.

"The players are happy and relieved that this matter has been resolved, and we can focus on what we need to do - play the best footy we can for our families and our people."

The Tonga Invitational squad is:

John Asiata, Andrew Fifita, Addin Fonua-Blake, David Fusitu'a, Siliva Havili, Ata Hingano, William Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings, Sione Katoa, Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Ma'u, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Joe Ofahengaue, Tevita Pangai Jr, Kotoni Staggs, Tevita Junior Tatola, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Jason Taumalolo, Daniel Tupou, Sitili  Tupouniua

Join us on October 26 for live updates of the Lions v Tonga Invitational XIII league clash