By Brad Walter NRL.com Senior Reporter
Kristian Woolf is set to be reinstated as Tonga coach for the upcoming Tests against Great Britain and Australia, and possibly the World Cup Nines, after the Prime Minister asked the RLIF to officially recognise a new governing body in the island kingdom.
Tongan Prime Minister Semisi Sika has sent a letter to be considered by the RLIF board on Thursday in which he said the Tonga National Rugby League had “lost the trust and support of its members”, the domestic clubs and international players.
The clubs have registered Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League as their new governing federation, and endorsed the Tonga Sports Council as the interim body responsible for selection, coaching and management of the Test team.
The move follows a trip to Tonga last week by RLIF chairman Nigel Wood, who met with Mr Sika to discuss concerns about the viability of the October 26 Test against Great Britain in Hamilton and November 2 Oceania Cup clash with Australia at Eden Park.
Mate Ma’a Tonga players, led by Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita, are now expected to return after refusing to play until TNRL chairman George Koloamatangi and secretary William Edwards stood down.
Woolf, who has been appointed as St Helens coach, is understood to be willing to again take charge of the Tonga team he built into an international powerhouse if the players want him to return.
The TNRL board last month sacked Woolf by email and announced the appointment of former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott for the Tests and ex-Gold Coast mentor Garth Brennan for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s.
Brennan has since resigned and Endacott has privately indicated he was willing to step aside for Woolf amid concerns about Tonga’s ability to field a competitive team.
Prime Minister Sika said in the letter: “As a result of the actions of its board, TNRL will be unable to field a national team with the best Tongan players”.
It is unclear if Woolf will also take the reins for the World Cup Nines but officials are believed to be keen for him to do so and hope Tonga will field its strongest team at the tournament on October 18 and 19.
With Tonga boasting a large contingent of players from the NRL and Super League who have been loyal to the red jersey since the 2017 World Cup, and earlier in many cases, there is unlikely to be any room for Israel Folau.
The TNRL announced on Monday that Folau and his brother, John, had made themselves available for selection but both have been playing rugby union.
If Woolf returns, he is likely to be spoilt for choice in the outside backs, with Will Hopoate, David Fusitu’a, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Robert Jennings, Kotoni Staggs, Konrad Hurrell, Mahe Fonua and Solomone Kata among those eligible.