Why Tonga’s rise is more than Taumalolo and Fifita
JASON Taumalolo insists the rise of Tonga has happened for more reasons than just the defection of himself and Andrew Fifita.
While Taumalolo and Fifita may have been the highest-profile players to align with Tonga, Taumalolo pinpointed to a host of teammates who have helped raise the profile of the island nation.
A Tongan-strong crowd of about 30,000 is expected on Saturday night when Australia play Tonga for the first time. About 1500 turned up for a fan day at Mt Smart Stadium with houses leading into the ground draped with red and white flags.
"A lot of people talk about my decision but it was a team decision," Taumalolo said.
"A few of the boys made the decision too to come back. Too many people are taking it out of proportion that I made the decision. Everyone made the decision themselves to come back and represent their country.
"Hopefully rugby league is growing back in Tonga. Me and Andrew (Fifita) are just a couple of (big) names that have been tossed around. It was more than just two of us. It was a whole 17, all the boys that are playing for Tonga now.
"Drew (Fifita) is just one piece of the puzzle. What we are doing is giving back to our country and proud nation."
Australian lock Josh McGuire is preparing to play against Brisbane teammates Tevita Pangai Jr and Joe Ofahengaue.
Pangai Jr's strong finish to the season had him in contention for a Kangaroos jersey but he opted to remain with Tonga.
"Tevita is capable of doing anything in rugby league, I'm so proud of what he's achieved already, and the sky is the limit for him and Joe [Ofahengaue],'' McGuire said.
"I've always said to him, 'follow your heart' and 'do what you think is right'. Football is a wonderful game, things change every day, I'm sure he's made his decision for his own reasons, but things might change next year, you never know.''
Taumalolo anticipated McGuire and Pangai Jr would be "keen to go at each other".