Tonga odds shorten with prize NRL recruits

33 Have your say

    Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita’s decision to turn their backs on New Zealand and Australia to play for Tonga in this year’s World Cup has delighted teammate Will Hopoate.

    The front-rowers are the biggest names in the Mate Ma’a squad for the World Cup, which boasts several current or former Kiwis or Kangaroos.

    Taumalolo’s decision on Wednesday to pledge his allegiance to Tonga has been followed by Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma’u and David Fusitu’a also advising New Zealand they would be committing to Tonga.

    Crowd favourites Konrad Hurrell and Manu Vatuvei are also in the Tonga squad along with former Kangaroos Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou.

    Hopoate, who has played five State of Origin matches for NSW, says it’s great for international rugby league that players such as Taumalolo and Fifita commit to Tonga over a Tier One nation.

    “It’s obviously great for Tonga, and great for the game,” Hopoate said.

    “It’s building the game internationally and I think it will make the World Cup a bit more competitive.”

    Fifita’s decision to withdraw from Australia’s squad for Tonga will cost him a $30,000 tournament payment as well as a possible $20,000 payment if the Kangaroos win the World Cup.

    Instead he’ll join a Tonga squad receiving a $30 per diem during the tournament, which starts on October 27.

    “It’s a big stand what they’re doing and obviously courageous of them to do so,” Hopoate said.

    “There’s obviously a lot more benefits playing for the Tier One nations and they’re clearly not doing it for money, rather for passion, for pride and it’s great for the game.”

    Hopoate said he was unaware of a reported pact between the New Zealand players to choose Tonga over the Kiwis in protest against New Zealand coach David Kidwell.

    Taumalolo and the other Kiwi-eligible players are believed to be upset with Kidwell’s decision to overlook Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor after the pair breached team protocol following this year’s Anzac Test against Australia in Canberra.

    The influx of talent to Tonga’s line-up has resulted in them shortening to fourth-favourite in betting markets for the tournament behind Australia, England and New Zealand.

    Priced at $81 with UBET before news of Taumalolo’s defection broke, Tonga have come in to $31 with more bets placed on the Pacific Islanders in the past two hours than in the past two months.

    “It is a boost for us getting these boys … there’s no secret to that but just because their name’s on a piece of paper doesn’t mean we’re going to play magically on the field,” Hopoate said.

    “It’s going to take hard work, it’s going to take a few tough training sessions … training hard and being consistent with what we do off the field will help us perform on the field.”

    Tonga squad:

    Andrew Fifita
    Mahe Fonua
    David Fusitu’a
    Siliva Havilli
    Ata Hingano
    Will Hopoate
    Konrad Hurrell
    Michael Jennings
    Solomone Kata
    Sione Katoa
    Samisoni Langi
    Tuimoala Lolohea
    Sika Manu
    Manu Ma’u
    Sam Moa
    Ben Murdoch Masila
    Joe Ofahengaue
    Tevita Pangai jnr
    Ukuma Ta’ai
    Sio Siua Taukieaho
    Jason Taumalolo
    Peni Terepo
    Daniel Tupou
    Manu Vatuvei

    © AAP 2017