- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A sea of Tongan red will meet Joe Tapine when he represents New Zealand this weekend but the Canberra Raiders star could hardly be happier about it.
In what will be the first professional rugby league match in NZ since before the pandemic, the Kiwis will host Tonga at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday in front of what is widely tipped to be a huge contingent of away supporters.
Tapine, whose sparkling form makes him a shoo-in to start in the NZ front row, said the entire experience of playing back in his home country would be an emotional one.
"I've been waiting for this for a while," he told reporters.
"To go to NZ, see my sister and my dad, it's gonna be huge and I can't wait to see them ... it's gonna be emotional, and it's gonna be good to play in front of them.
"It's gonna be a sea of red but I love it.
"The atmosphere is ridiculous, and even though they're in red, you get signs like 'We love Tonga but go Kiwis', so they're not bad supporters."
Tapine's monstrous campaign, in which he leads the NRL's forwards in run metres and the entire competition in post-contact metres, prompted Canberra coach Ricky Stuart to suggest he would play a leadership role for his nation.
It's something Tapine admitted he'd turned his mind to.
"It's one of my goals, to captain my country and the club," he said.
"I've let Stick (Stuart) know it's one of my my goals; I aim for big goals.
"I've been working on (leadership) in the last couple of years, but it's kind of starting to show a bit more now. I'm happy everyone is seeing what I'm working at."