Local Name: Pule’anga Fakatu’i ‘o Tonga
Team Name: Mate Ma’a Tonga
Colours: Red and White
First WC Appearance: 1995
No. Of RLWC Titles: 0
Tonga Rugby League Test Match Previews and Score Predictions
Tonga are one of the real success stories of International Rugby League having only taken up the sport in 1986.
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Tonga Rugby League
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Within the first 2 years of playing Rugby League the South Pacific Archipelago had over 2000 players in their domestic competition which featured 14 tams spread across the main Islands of Tonga.
The nation’s first International Rugby League match took place in the 1988 Pacific Cup and in 1992 they actually made the final of the Pacific Cup.
Tonga’s rapid progression then took the next level as they qualified for their first ever World Cup in 1995 where they lost by just a single point to the mighty New Zealand in Warrington.
In both 2000 and 2008 the Tongans failed to live up to that early success by been eliminated in the group stage of both tournaments although they did pick up wins long the way against the likes of Ireland.
Tonga has gone on to develop some fantastic Rugby League players and can now call upon many players from the NRL and the Super League to compliment there domestic based stars.
Tongan National Rugby League Team
Tonga have become one of the top nations out on the field but what has really added to their popularity and rise in the world standings has been the incredible support that they have enjoyed from their fans including the incredible 2017 Rugby league World Cup semi-final when 25,000 Tongan fans backed their side against England and despite their country losing, the fans grabbed the headlines around the world with their hymn singing and incredible support.
One of the highlights of each and every Tongan international test match happens before the first whistle in blown as the side perform the always spine-chilling Sipi Tau. When they face off against other Pacific Island countries of New Zealand and their Haka, the incredible intensity of the pre-match rituals always set the scene for a great match up to come.
Colours and Kit
The Tongan playing strip is representative of the Tongan flag as it is predominantly red but with touches of white.
Tonga have yet to win a major title or trophy on the global stage but they have enjoyed regional success with a win at the 1994 and 2006 Pacific Cup.
Tonga are able to call upon a wide range of players from across New Zealand and Australia who have Tongan parentage to add to the growing number of players born in the country that come through the ranks of local teams as well as NRL sides.
It will be no surprise therefore that they have managed to produce or attract lots of top stars down the years, with many players choosing to represent their heritage over the potential glory of playing for the Kiwis or Kangaroos.
Amongst the big names to have represented them down the years are Martin Masella, Tevita Vaikona, Lopini Paea, Feleti Mateo, John Hopoate, Willie Mason, Brent Kite, Antonio Kaufusi, Duane Mann, George Mann, Awen Guttenbell, Fuifui Moimoi, Tevita Latuand Sika Manu.
In the modern era, some of the stars to feature for Tonga have included Tevita Pangai Junior, Will Hopoate, Andrew Fifita, Felise Kaufusi, Ben Murdoch-Masila, David Fusitu’a, Robert Jennings, Daniel Fifita, Daniel Tupou, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Sosaia Feki, Mahe Fonua, Manu Ma’u, Albert Vete, Konrad Hurrell, Tui Lolohea, Agnatius Paasi and Jason Taumalolo.
The Tongan national team were established for the 1986 Pacific Cup that the country co-hosted.
Upon seeing the 13 man code, many 15 man code players switched over and even a number of Union clubs changed their allegiance.
That helped the country to quickly develop lots of players and with that increased playing pool, the country started to play regular internationals and that helped them build to the 1986 Pacific Cup when they picked up their first ever win against American Samoa in Apia.
In the 1992 edition, the Tongans showed even better form and picked up wins over the Cook Islands, Fiji and the NZ Maori team which saw them reach the final in a losing effort to American Samoa.
The country continued to build an in 1995, they reached their first ever Rugby League World Cup which is an achievement that they have managed every tournament since.
Between 1995-2013, they failed to pick up enough points to get out of the opening group stage but that all changed around with the 2017 when they not only reached the knock-out stage but they reached the semi-final stage where they narrowly lost to England in that incredible match up played in front of 25,000 Tongan fans in Auckland.
That is the country best tournament performance to date but their best single match achievement came in 1999 when they played a touring Great Britain side and pulled off an incredible win hot on the heels of defeating the Australian Kangaroos for the first time.
Tonga’s improvement and incredible rise to be able to take on and defeat the tier 1 nations is hugely commendable and has really made the international scene even more exciting for all Rugby League fans but now the challenge is for them to not only continue matching the top teams but to keep defeating them.