Tonga Invitational Team supporters at Mangere. Photo/ Sisifa Fuki Ngaluafe

Kaniva comment

The BBC has described Tongan fans as “sensational.”

In a preview of tonight’s match in Hamilton the British  broadcaster said those who were in  Auckland in 2017 “for that spine-tingling semi-final between the Mate Ma’a and England will know exactly what to expect. There will be more of the same in Hamilton.”

But will there?

Judging by the number of  supporters on the streets, support for the Tongan team has fallen and does not reflect the huge support the team received in 2017 and 2018.

There are many reasons for this, including the call from Tonga’s interim rugby board to boycott the team, saying this was not a Tongan team. Because of the bitter dispute that has wracked rugby league in Tonga, the British Lions will face the Tongan invitation XIII, not the Mate Ma’a, a solution brokered  by the international rugby league authorities.

Some Tongans have dismissed the Invitational side as a palagi team established by the palagi authorities at the Rugby League International and Tongan players who were born in New Zealand and Australia like Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo.

A small number of Tongans have supported the call for a boycott, including the chair of the Auckland-based Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, who told RNZ the International Rugby League had insulted the Kingdom of Tonga.

Mate Ma’a founding member Will ‘Ilolahia  said there was a tangible change in support for this weekend’s clash. He said this would be the first time he would not watch the game live, because “it’s not a national Tongan team.”

However, community leader Manase Lua told RNZ support for the players was still strong with many of the Tongan community attending a kava ceremony in Hamilton this week.

“The players are here. The fact is they’re playing and they’re Tongans, so they will be there to support in force.”

People who spoke to Kaniva news have rejected the idea that the call for a boycott is behind the fall in support.

They said “something new” was needed to recapture the level of support for the team and said a victory over the British Lions today could be the trigger.

As Kaniva news reported, there was a noticeable drop in support for the Mate Ma’a in June for their clash with the New Zealand Kiwis.

Tickets for that game did not sell as quickly as expected and parades and activities in support of the Tongan team were relatively low key.

Kaniva news has been talking to people on the street and found many won’t even be watching the game.

However, they still supported the Tongan team and rejected the interim board and what they saw as its attempts to discredit the Tongan players.

Owner of Eight Roses Catering and Restaurant in South Auckland, Freddy Tu’akalau, said some Tongans were fed up with the rugby politics in Tonga and had chosen to commit their time to something else until the fighting was settled.

There has been a wave of online support from New Zealand supporters with cheer leaders claiming tickets for this evening’s test match have been sold out. Kaniva news is trying to confirm this.

Others have been equally vocal in their support.

Falanisi Fonokalafi, from the largest Tongan night club in South Auckland, said he would attend the match and invited supporters to come to  Titilupe nightclub to celebrate after the match.

Aerobic instructor Viliami Tomu conducted a big training session in Mangere yesterday to support the team.

Mate Ma’a Tonga cheerleader Sisifa Fuki Ngalufe said the attendance was huge.

Tongan coach Kristian Woolf has urged the Tongan community to get behind his team.

“What they have done for the country of Tonga and the profile of Tonga has been outstanding and the way they have united people, has been something very, very special to watch,” he said.

The main points

  • The BBC has described Tongan fans as “sensational.”
  • In a preview of tonight’s match in Hamilton said those who saw “for that spine-tingling semi-final between the Mate Ma’a and England will know exactly what to expect. There will be more of the same in Hamilton.”
  • But will there?

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