Rugby league is “a sport for Tonga,” says Tongan pioneer

Revisited. First published 30/11/2017

The Mate Ma’a Tonga’s performance during the Rugby League World Cup proved the sport was for Tonga, according to one of the pioneers of the game, Dr. Viliami Fukofuka.

Dr. Viliami Fukofuka. Photo/Kalino Lātū

Dr. Fukofuka, a former Ministry of Education CEO and Member of Parliament, was one of the pioneers who established Rugby League in Tonga in 1986.

He said Tongan authorities should treat the sport as a piece of “gold.”

He said the Tongan players were outstanding in a number of things including the three tries
they converted in the last seven minutes of their semi-final match with England.

“I do not believe any team in the world could do that,” Dr Fukofuka said.

The match ended in controversy after Tonga’s forward Andrew Fifita was denied a match-
winning try right on ful-ltime despite an England hand appearing to strip the ball from his grasp.

Dr. Fukofuka said a decision by the Rugby League World Cup organisers to deny Tonga’s  request for them to reverse the decision by its referee who was in control of Tonga – England semi final match was wrong.

“They tarnished the excellent performance our boys have done,” he said.

“The world has witnessed how marvelous the Mate Ma’a Tonga played during the
tournament,” Dr. Fukofuka said.


Dr. Fukofuka said George Mann, a former rugby league footballer who represented New
Zealand and Tonga, came to Tonga to introduce the sport in 1980s.

They met while Dr. Fukofuka was working with Tonga’s Rugby Union referees and coaches.

Dr. Fukofuka said Mann believed the sport fitted the physique and sportability of Tongan youth.

“There are not many scrums,” he said.

“It’s a sport where the boys need to pick the ball and run. Our Tongan boys can do that really well.”

Dr. Fukofuka was emotional and tearful during an interview with Kaniva News at his residence in Popua yesterday morning.

He said he was overwhelmed when he listened to the radio during the Mate Ma’a Tonga

“God has put Tonga in a position we are so proud of,” a tearful Dr. Fukofuka said.

He said Mann would be very happy about Tonga’s performance.

Pacific Cup

Dr. Fukofuka said the highlight of rugby league in their time was the Pacific Cup 1986 in which Tonga participated.

He said Tongans were extremely supportive and during the Pacific cup the then king attended one of the events in Tonga.

He said the rugby league committee hired a helicopter from which a skydiver parachuted as part of the entertainment.

“It was obvious at the time that this was a sport for Tonga,” Dr. Fukofuka said.

Tonga celebrate MMT

Tongan fans took to the road today (Wednesday 29) and braved a long rainy day to show their appreciation for the Mate Ma’a Tonga team.

Floats had to be repeatedly redirected from central Nuku’aofa to nearby towns such as
Ma’ufanga and Kolomotu’a and wait until there were spaces on main roads before they
returned to follow the Mate Ma’a Tonga players’ floats.

The player’s vehicles had to be stopped from time to time so that people could be able to take photos with them.

Jubilant supporters danced on rooftops and honked their horns all through Vaha’akolo Road, By Pass and Taufa’ahau Road.

The Ma’a Tonga attended a ceremony at the Nuku’alofa Royal Palace where they were awarded with Royal Orders by the king.

A block party has been arranged for the MMT and their supporters after the royal ceremony in central Nuku’alofa.


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