The decision to sack Mate Ma’a coach Kristian Woolf has damaged the great spirit of rapport that has built up between fans and the team.
Kaniva news has been talking to die-hard supporters in South Auckland about the decision and they vowed to boycott any future Mate Ma’a games.
Many online users frankly expressed their fury and rage against the board. They said they would not tell their children what had happened to the national team, because the Mate Ma’a was their idol.
The fans’ great affinity with the team has manifested itself in their vocal support at matches. The team’s successes have also led Mate Ma’a to push hard for more games against tier one teams as a reward for their support.
The interim board’s decision to sack Woolf, who has coached the team to new levels of success is discourteous to the team’s fans.
It is also a slap in the face for the team, especially those players like Jason Taumālolo who gave up playing for New Zealand or Australia for the honour of representing the kingdom.
Players like Andrew Fifita, Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma’u and David Fusitu’a gave up substantial fees to play for Tonga and volunteered their time and effort to give back to the kingdom by building up the team’s international reputation.
Fifita is reported to have forfeited a Aus$30,000 tournament payment as well as a possible Aus$20,000 payment if the Kangaroos won the World Cup.
If he takes to the field for Mate Ma’a during this year’s tournament, which starts on October 27, he will get $30 a day.
Tonga is unlikely to have the money to pay the players what they could be earning any time soon.
Thanks to the sacrifice and skill of all the Mate Ma’a players Tonga is no longer just a team from the Pacific pool, but a new force on the world rugby league stage.
They may not have won all their matches, but the world’s top tier teams now know that win or lose, the Mate Ma’a – and their fans – will make it a memorable occasion.
When interim board chair George Koloamatangi confirmed that Woolf had been sacked, he said it was because there were issues the board and Woolf could not agree on.
These included sponsorship, managing the team and negotiating with sponsors.
Were these issues really such an obstacle that they could not be solved without sacking Woolf?
All the interim board has done is to insult Woolf and the players and to shock and infuriate the fans.
With the World Nines and other matches in the offing, the decision could not have been more damaging.
As Kaniva news reported last night, judging from his comments on Thursday, Koloamatangi already seems resigned to losing at least some of the current players.
If Mate Ma’a’s players do decide to walk, does he really think he and the rest of the interim board can whip up another world-challenging team out of thin air?
It is time for the board to reconsider its decision.