Tongan rugby league icon Manu Vatuvei says it is fitting that a much anticipated match with the world champion Australians was announced during Tongan Language Week.
After months of negotiations it has been confirmed that Tonga will play Australia at Mt Smart Stadium on October the 20th.
Vatuvei, who has represented both New Zealand and Tonga at international level and played over 200 matches for the Warriors, was at yesterday’s announcement.
There are over 60,000 Tongans in New Zealand, making them the third largest Pacific community behind Samoans and Cook Islanders.
This week the country marks Tongan Language Week, or Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga.
Vatuvei said culture and language were important to the team and its supporters so the timing of the test match announcement was perfect.
“That means a lot to us and I reckon that is why you see a lot of emotion in some of the guys when they put that jersey on and how better they play when they get on the field.”
Manu Vatuvei said the team would connect with Auckland’s large Tongan community as soon as they landed.
“Going into the community, I reckon it will be awesome, it will be hectic”
“You will see all the Tongans at the airport. It will start from there and it will carry on every day,” he said.
The giant wing, who is affectionately known as the ‘beast’, said people will begin to see more and more Tongan flags on cars in the coming days.
“It’s exciting. It is something that they have always wanted, that they were waiting for, and now it is going to happen.”
Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says confirmation they will play both Australia and New Zealand is an important step in the overall growth of the international game.
Mate Ma’a Tonga have also been offered a long-awaited rematch against the Kiwis in June 2019.
The Tongan team defeated the Kiwis 28-22 in a historic victory at last year’s World Cup.
Their coach Kristian Woolf had been vocal about the need to play more tests against tier one nations and said it was just reward for players who had sacrificed a lot for their country.