By Radio New Zealand
The emotional return of number eight Nasi Manu headlines Tonga’s 31-man squad for the Pacific Nations Cup rugby competition.
The 30 year-old made his test debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi last year but underwent surgery for testicular cancer in August and missed the entire Pro-14 season for his Italian club Bennetton Treviso.
But ‘Ikale Taki coach Toutai Kefu said he was always in their thoughts and is an important part of their squad.
“And I think for him myself personally, it’s good to be back. He’s always been high in in our thoughts and he’s a quality player. He was never going to miss selection but due to illness, he had to have a break for a while.”
Departing Hurricanes lock Sam Lousi is one of four new caps in the Tongan squad, alongside Bayonne prop Toma Taufa, Tonga A first five James Faiva and Auckland midfielder Otumaka Mausia.
Toutai Kefu said the former New Zealand Warriors rugby league player, who also played for the Waratahs and will join Welsh club Scarlets next season, is a player he’s been chasing for a long time.
“He’s a great player as you know, wealth of experience in super rugby and he’s looking forward to putting the red jersey on. He’s a great individual and I’ve had many conversations with him, and we are finally able to get him in the end,” Kefu said.
Tonga will kick off their Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Manu Samoa in Apia on July 27 – before facing Japan in Osaka and Canada in Lautoka.
The Kingdom will also take on the Flying Fijians in the Pasifika Challenge in Auckland at the end of August, before facing the All Blacks in Hamilton in their final test before departing for the World Cup.
Kefu said the next two months is crucial for their preparations for the World Cup, where they are targeting a spot in the quarter finals.
“We got a way we want to play that gets us the best result, it’s going to take a while to implement, and we are confident we can do that.”
“Success for us is probably automatci selection for the next World cup in France but our goal is to make the playoff stage which we need to win three games,” he said..
“We have a tough poll, we got England first up and then we go Argentina, France and then USA.” The three games we want to target and win.”
“We have looked at that opposition very closely, we will come up with something more specific in terms of our game plan and how we want to play those games.”
“We are confident and we think we can do it, we think we got the squad, we’ve got a blueprint on how we want to play and approach a game, that’s our goal,” Toutai Kefu said.
The Tongan squad will assemble in Auckland on Monday for a one-week training camp before departing for Samoa.
Tonga squad for Pacific Nations Cup:
Paea Fa’anunu, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Toma Taufa*, Paula Ngauamo, Elvis Taione, Sefo Sakalia, Ma’afu Fia, Siua Halanukonuka, Ben Tameifuna, Leva Fifita, Onehunga Havili, Sam Lousi*, Steve Mafi, Zane Kapeli, Fotu Lokotui, Nasi Manu, Sione Vailanu, Ma’ama Vaipulu, Sami Fisilau, Leon Fukofuka, Sonatane Takulua, Latiume Fosita, James Faiva*, Otumaka Mausia*, Siale Piutau, Nafi Tuitavake, Viliami Lolohea, Afa Pakalani, Cooper Vuna, Tevita Halaifonua, Fetuli Paea.
Not considered due to injury : Sione Kalamafoni, Telusa Veainu.