Anticipation grows for “terrific grudge match” against Australia at Mt Smart on June 22

    Anticipation is growing ahead of next month’s clash between Mate Ma’a Tonga and New Zealand, with news that Tēvita Pangai jnr will play for the kingdom.

    Pangai has turned down a potential $90,000 State of Origin matches and will receive jut $3000 for the clash at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22.

    Pangai has played four tests for Tonga, including Tonga’s game against Australia.

    The June 22 fixture is part of the Oceania Cup which features two pools, with New Zealand Kiwis, Australian Kangaroos and Mate Ma’a Tonga in Pool A and Toa Samoa, Fiji Bati and the Papua New Guinea Kumuls in Pool B.

    While Mate Ma’a Tonga are showing their mettle in the Mt Smart Stadium, across the Ditch, Toa Samoa will play Papua New Guinea Kumuls in another Oceania Cup match and Fiji Bati will take on Cook Islands at Campbelltown Sports Stadium in Sydney.

    Mate Ma’a Tonga has stunned the world’s top tier teams with it performance in recent years.

    Even its loss to Australia was seen as a step on the way to the upper reaches of the game.

    Mate Ma’a Tonga owes much of its success to players from the Australian and New Zealand leagues such as Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Sio Siua Taukeiaho who chose to play for the kingdom.

    Fifita said Mate Ma’a Tonga had created “something really good for international footy,”

    “The pinnacle of our game is to play for your country.”

    Tonga’s coach, Kristian Woolf said he was delighted that Mate Ma‘a would have the opportunity to face New Zealand again after beating them in Hamilton in 2017.

    “It’s a terrific grudge match and one that both teams will be right up for and really looking forward to,” Woolf said.

    Woolf said the way fans had supported Mate Ma’a Tonga in the last two years was unbelievable.

    “We really appreciate the support and while it’s played in New Zealand, we certainly want to make it feel like a home game for Tonga as well,” Woolf said.

    New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters said the game would be played in “the heartland of rugby league – South Auckland” and expected Tongans to flood in and support the game.

    Peters said the Oceania Cup was a big chance for Pacific Island nations to build on their impressive performances in recent years.

    “A big part of this is obviously embracing and respecting the contribution of Pacific Island players to rugby league in New Zealand,” he said.

    Lions

    The Oceania Cup will not be the Tongan team’s only international exposure this year.

    Mate Ma’a Tonga will also face the touring British Lions in Hamilton on October 26 before taking on world champions Australia on November 2 as part of an international triple header at Eden Park. The event will also feature New Zealand against the British tourists and Toa Samoa taking on the Fiji Bati.

    The Lions are touring the southern hemisphere for the first time in 13 years and will also play Papua New Guinea.

    Women’s opener

    The June 22 clash will be a Pacific double header as the Kiwi Ferns play the Fetu Samoa womens team as part of a blockbuster Pacific double header.

    The Kiwi Ferns-Fetu Samoa match kicks off at 5pm.

    The women’s match will be the first time the two Pacific rivals have clashed in 11 years, with the Kiwi Ferns winning the last match between the two nations at the 2008 Women’s Rugby League World Cup in Brisbane.

    Doors open at Mt Smart at 4pm.  Mate Ma’a Tonga and New Zealand are expected to take the field about 7.30pm

    The main points

    • Anticipation is growing ahead of next month’s clash between Mate Ma’a Tonga and New Zealand, with news that Tevita Pangai jnr will play for the kingdom.
    • Pangai has turned down a potential $90,000 State of Origin matches and will receive jut $3000 for the clash at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22.
    • Mate Ma’a Tonga has stunned the world’s top tier teams with it performance in recent years.

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