League back in NZ for bumper Tonga Test

·3-min read

Elite rugby league will return to New Zealand for the first time since 2019 as part of late-June's bumper Representative Round.

A monstrous crowd is expected to pack Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday June 25 to see the Kiwis tackle key international rival Tonga, while Campbelltown Stadium will host a double-header with Samoa tackling Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea facing Fiji.

No NRL or international fixtures have been played in New Zealand since November 2019, when the Tongans famously upset Australia 16-12.

North Queensland superstar Jason Taumalolo, who led Tonga to that upset in front of a huge contingent of his compatriots, touched on the special feeling representing his country gives him.

"It's been a while since I last played for Tonga ... the last time we did play was when we beat Australia," he told AAP.

"It's been years now, but I've been keeping in contact with a lot of people and they've been notifying us when we can play.

"Obviously my main focus is here at (North Queensland) but like you said, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about obviously playing for Tonga.

"I love playing for Tonga, because it's my culture and it's a different feel playing for your people."

The internationals will be sandwiched between State of Origin matches, with the women facing off in Canberra on Friday June 24 before the men play game two of their series on Sunday June 26 in Perth.

"The Pacific Test matches will be vital for these nations as they prepare for the World Cup later this year and importantly, for our fans, a chance to watch their heroes live in their national colours," Australia Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys said.

"This is part of a long-term plan to grow the international game in conjunction with International Rugby League (IRL) and member countries.

"We've seen with the growth and success of Tonga in recent years and we want to capitalise on the potential depth of our Test playing nations."

New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters said his nation's women's side would also battle Tonga, eyeing off a record in the process.

"We encourage everyone to make their way to Mt Smart come June 25 to break the crowd attendance record for a women's Test and celebrate the return of international rugby league to New Zealand shores after some challenging years," he said.

"To celebrate Matariki (Maori New Year) weekend with an international Test double-header that unites our fans and communities in celebration is special."

IRL chairman Troy Grant agreed getting the Pacific nations back on the field was huge for the code.

"There has been very little opportunity to play international matches for more than two years and we know how passionate the players from the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga are about representing their nations," he said.

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