Embarrassing ticket sales loom for Kiwis

Daniel Gilhooly and Steve Zemek

An embarrassing outcome at the turnstiles looms for New Zealand, prompting coach Michael Maguire to urge Kiwi rugby league fans to support their home team.

Two days out from the trans-Tasman Test in Auckland, the New Zealand Rugby League is anticipating a crowd of about 15,000 at Mt Smart Stadium.

The hastily arranged Test between the Kangaroos and Tonga a week later is expected to be sold out at the same venue, which can hold just under 26,000 fans.

Venue officials haven't responded to AAP's request for official sale figures but NZRL chief executive Greg Peters admitted the Kiwis Test was likely to attract a considerably smaller crowd, despite it being part of a trans-Tasman triple-header involving women's and junior internationals.

"We're hoping to get a crowd of around 15,000 at the end of the day but if we get three wins on the weekend people will say 'I wish I was there watching that," Peters told Radio Sport.

"I don't think it has quite sold out the following week."

Boosted by New Zealand and Australian NRL stars, Mate Ma'a Tonga provided the fairytale story of last year's World Cup, attracting massive crowds on their way to a semi-final loss to England.

An indication that they would be popular again next week came at an official "welcome" in South Auckland on Wednesday night, when about 4000 flag-waving supporters enthusiastically greeted Sika Manu's team.

Maguire implored Kiwi supporters to make their presence felt as he moulds a new-look team seeking to put last year's World Cup disaster behind them.

The hosts under former coach David Kidwell were beaten by Tonga in pool play in Hamilton and were eliminated in a shock quarter-final loss to Fiji in Wellington.

"Oh look, I think we should get behind the team," Maguire said.

"It's a new beginning to where we're going. I think the supporters play a big part in what makes a team. If people get behind that, they're going to be in for a really good surprise over where we're going as a group."

Peters said New Zealand fans in their Auckland heartland are getting used to the idea of supporting their team again.

"We haven't had games regularly enough at our home. Mt Smart is the home of rugby league in New Zealand and we need to start to rebuild that," he said.

"We took a big hit last year and that's why I'm calling it a new era and a rebuild of the faith in the black and white shirt at the senior level particularly."

New Zealand will host Tonga next year in a mid-season Test which replaces the failed experiment of playing England in Denver.

The NZRL is still to be financially compensated for this year's Denver fixture, which was to be the first of a three-year agreement.