Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo headline a 29-man preliminary squad named by Tonga to take on the Kangaroos in an end of season Test match.
If you’re looking for a ‘feel good’ rugby league story in 2018, I’d say good luck finding one.
The entire season has been suffocated with refereeing controversies, coaching debacles, basket case clubs with salary cap dramas, poor crowds and the constant criticism of Ben Hunt.
I get it though. Controversies get the clicks and sell the newspapers, which is why rugby league journalists are labelled as ‘crisis merchants’.
So much for Todd Greenberg’s #TalkTheGameUp initiative.
But for a rare change of pace, it’s been great to see clubs paying their respects for retiring great and future immortal, Johnathan Thurston.
For a player who’s achieved just about everything there is to achieve in rugby league, it’s also his contributions off the field for his local community, indigenous community, junior rugby league and the fans, makes the man affectionately known as JT, one of the games most cherished role models.
It’s great to see other clubs, players and coaches recognise JT’s contributions to the game with post match presentations and guards of honour.
But let’s not stop with JT. Other retiring greats such as Billy Slater, Simon Mannering, Sam Thaiday, Luke Lewis and so on deserve the same recognition.
It would be great for the game if clubs turned these sorts of gestures into a rugby league tradition of sportsmanship and respect.
Much respect to the New Zealand Warriors, who went a step further with a special tribute for retiring referee Matt Cecchin after their Round 22 match.
I understand that all retiring players are honoured on grand final day, but post match tributes during the regular season provide a more personal touch for individual retirees.
Sure, these stories won’t get the clicks or sell the newspapers, but respect is everything and it’s a wonderful image for the game.