With fewer than 30 days to go until the 2019 women’s State of Origin at North Sydney Oval, this week the NRL took the opportunity to launch the game.
Tonga have declared themselves ready and willing for a shot at Australia after ramming home their case for an historic Test with a thrilling 38-22 defeat of Samoa in Sydney.
Fresh off their semi-final appearance at last year’s World Cup, the Mate Ma’a ran in six first-half tries before holding off a late comeback in front of 17,802 fans on a chilly Saturday night at Campbelltown Stadium.
Jason Taumalolo and Will Hopoate starred, as the Tongans’ combined 1501 games of NRL experience was brought to the fore.
The performance comes as an end-of-year Test against the Kangaroos remains a possibility – a match with the potential to generate more anticipation than any international in years.
“That’s something we are really pushing as hard as we can to make happen,” Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said.
“If we put that 40 minutes together then I think we’ve got a real shot. We continue to improve.
“I certainly implore the NRL and international rugby league to make that happen.”
The Test has both the support of Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and rugby league immortal Andrew Johns, who said in commentary on Saturday night the Pacific Islanders could challenge Australia.
“I’ve got to give Mal Meninga a wrap there,” Woolf said.
“Every time I’ve spoken to him, the first conversation to get the ball rolling was with Mal.
“He jumped at it straight away. It’s something he’s right behind and wants to make happen.”
The only negatives on Saturday night came in the form of injuries to Manu Ma’u (cheekbone) and Ata Hingano (ankle), while Samoa also lost Sam Kasiano to a knee injury early.
After Samoa opened the scoring through James Gavet in the second minute, Tonga ran in 36-straight points and controlled 70 per cent of possession in the 40 minutes that followed.
Hopoate finished with one try and had a hand in three others to go with his nine tackle busts, while the barnstorming Taumalolo had a hand in two tries and totalled 164 metres.
Andrew Fifita – who opted to represent Tonga ahead of playing in this year’s State of Origin series – was also powerful early with four tackle busts and five offloads, as was second-rower Sio Siua Taukeiaho who has opted for the Pacific nation over the Kiwis.
Samoa mounted a late fightback in the second half through tries to Tim Lafai, Tyrone May and Jorge Taufua, but it was too little too late after Tonga’s opening 40 minutes.
“I don’t think any team could’ve stopped Tonga the way they came at us there,” Samoan coach Matt Parish said.
“They’re ready for anyone. And so are we.”
Tonga have never played Australia in a Test, however the cause has been championed this week by Taumalolo and Fifita.
The Pacific nation shocked New Zealand at the World Cup and went within a last-minute knock-on of beating England in the semi-finals.