Kristian Woolf’s Tonga outfit are gearing up for the Pacific Test against world No. 7 Fiji at Campbelltown Stadium in May.
The clash will be the first time the two teams have met since the Pacific Cup back in 2009 when Bati came up trumps 26-16.
The Pacific Test will be a huge challenge for the 14th-ranked nation who are preparing for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, in which they have been pooled with three top-five countries, including New Zealand (second), Scotland (fourth) and Tonga (fifth).
Woolf has numerous selection headaches on his hands as he looks to name an outfit capable of unseating the Bati.
A traditional struggle for Tonga and fellow Pacific nations has been the halves; however, Woolf has access to two quality, young, creative positional players who he can develop and take all the way to the end-of-year World Cup.
The Warriors duo have sat behind Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson at club level but will be gifted a great opportunity to showcase their skills to Stephen Kearney in the Pacific Test. They will be joined by Penrith Panthers hooker Sione Katoa, who made his Tongan debut last year and has honed his skills in the Panthers NSW Cup side.
Woolf’s playmakers will be supported by a strong backline featuring Tongan-born centres Solomone Kata and Konileti Hurrell, two players that have been mainstays in the Tonga team in recent years. The pair is known for their ability to break tackles and leave opponents shaking in their boots with their aggressive running style and potent try-scoring ability.
Provided he is not selected for the City Origin side, Roosters winger Daniel Tupou will relish the opportunity to represent his country for the first time since the 2013 World Cup. Tupou has returned to form in 2017, once again proving a menace on the wing for Easts.
The Tongan side will also be supported by a strong forward pack, to be led by Sika Manu who has been a consistent performer for Mate Ma’a in the past years. Manu will likely take his place in a young, inexperienced pack but one with plenty of go-forward and potential to challenge the big nations.
Among the potential forwards in Woolf’s side include Maroons bolters Felise Kaufusi and Patrick Kaufusi, Warriors prop Albert Vete and Roosters lock forward Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
Despite not having the opportunities to improve in the RLIF world rankings in recent years, Tonga have a great squad of players at their disposal with a potential upset on the cards.
Tonga’s Best 17
1. Michael Oldfield (Penrith Panthers, two caps)
2. Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters, three caps)
3. Solomone Kata (New Zealand Warriors, four caps)
4. Konileti Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans, four caps)
5. Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks, two caps)
6. Tuimoala Lolohea (New Zealand Warriors, one cap)
7. Mafoa’aeata Hingano (New Zealand Warriors, yet to debut)
8. Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm, two caps)
9. Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers, one cap)
10. Albert Vete (New Zealand Warriors, two caps)
11. Sikalamu Manu (Captain; Hull FC, seven caps)
12. Siosifa Talakai (South Sydney Rabbitohs, yet to debut)
13. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Sydney Roosters, two caps)
14. Tony Williams (Cronulla Sharks, four caps)
15. Addin Fonua-Blake (Manly Sea Eagles, yet to debut)
16. Patrick Kaufusi (North Queensland Cowboys, one cap)
17. Danny Fualalo (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, yet to debut)