The Roar
The Roar


For the good of international rugby league, the Tongans must fight amongst themselves

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10th September, 2019
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“If the Tonga situation is not resolved by the RLIF immediately, it will be one of the biggest backwards steps (sic) for international rugby league in many years.”

Firstly, this is what someone said to me on Twitter. My Twitter account has been restored – but I won’t be using in the way I have until now. My two weeks without it have been complete bliss.

I’ll do my tweeting in places like this from now on. So, in lieu of a very long tweet…

The “Tonga situation” is players apparently vowing not to play in the World Cup Nines or Tests at the end of the year unless officials of the Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) are removed.

Andrew Fifita led the charge on Instagram, vowing: “As players, we will not take part in the world 9s and the 2 test matches at the end of year.”

The players seem unhappy that Kristian Woolf has been removed as coach (amid speculation linking him to St Helens) and replaced by Garth Brennan. The TNRL will not even say if this has happened.

Should the RLIF resolve this matter immediately? No! How would we feel if players were upset with FFA changing coach of the Socceroos and FIFA jumped in and told us what to do?


As much as there is at stake – the success of the RLIF’s two properties, the World Cup and the World Cup Nines – this is a domestic issue.

If the players and the TNRL can’t sort it out and a bunch of domestic players are fielded, leading to 100-0 defeats (in Nines!), then that’s how the cookie crumbles. Bad luck.

There are a number of wider issues at play here but they are also functions of where international rugby league is and which can only be left to take their course.

James Tedesco of Australia on the charge during the International Test match against Tonga.

Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The biggest of these is professional players representing amateur bodies.

The NRL and Super League stars may ‘be’ Tonga or Lebanon or whoever to the public but the fact is these are national teams who managed to convince full-time pros to turn out for them.

If they can no longer convince certain players to don their jersey, they are still a national federation of a small and developing sport with the right to field the national team in that sport.

That’s where Greece is in trouble – the domestic government doesn’t recognise the right of the current body to field a national team, so they must play away.


Tonga and Lebanon can always put out a team without Jason Taumalolo and Robbie Farah. Taumalolo and Farah, however, can’t field their own Mate Ma’a and Cedars teams in official competition.

No matter how much we buy into the modern phenomenon of player power, those stark facts remain.

That is not to say that the RLIF should not expect certain standards of domestic governing bodies and take action where due process, transparency and good governance are not in evidence.

That is exactly what happened in Greece, where the Hellenic Rugby League was suspended. That is the body still recognised by the country’s government.

The RLIF should perhaps remind the Tongans that telling a coach to stand down and then denying any such instruction (if that is what happened) is damaging to the intellectual property of the sport.


But the central complaints of the Tongan players so far made public do not invite RLIF interference.

Andrew Fifita

Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The TNRL promised to keep a pot of $50,000 for the running of the national team but put it into grassroots development at home?

Firstly, the argument over a promise made and allegedly broken is between the people involved in the conversation.

Secondly, a governing body’s responsibility is to govern. Ploughing money back into development is a well-established policy! A national team is not a club team.

They changed the coach without asking the players? Well, once more, that’s got nothing to do with the international governing body. Nothing at all.

Big, well-paid professional athletes from Australia – who are at the top of the tree there, representing amateur bodies who administer a struggling sport elsewhere – have always created friction in international rugby league.

And sometimes that friction will cause a fire that burns down the whole house.


Your period of over-achievement is followed by a period of under-achievement.

So be it.