The Tonga men’s sevens team is building strength in numbers in the leadup to their World Series return.
The Kingdom will compete at the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton this weekend, marking their first appearance on the global circuit in five years.
Head coach Tevita Tu’ifua said the team held an open trial in Auckland before Christmas for any players keen to be involved with the national team and received a great response.
“We managed to get a good group of kids, young boys from the age of under 25 down to 18 interested and we managed to pull up two teams now,” he said.
“When I finalise the team going out there will be another team, a development side, entering a couple of sevens, which is the Tailevu Sevens as well as the Marist (Sevens) will be outside of the stadium in Hamilton.”
Tevita Tu’ifua said the interest in the Tongan sevens programme has been growing since their fifth placed finish at the Oceania Sevens in November, which qualified them for the Hamilton and Sydney legs of the World Series and the Hong Kong World Series Qualifier.
“The interest now has started to show and the commitment and the competition now has started to get a bit healthier,” laughed the former ‘Ikale Tahi international.
While growing depth on the field is a work in progress, Tu’ifua acknowledged the loyal Tongan supporter base in New Zealand, who turned up in numbers during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup and last year’s sold out test between Mate Ma’a Tonga and the Australian Kangaroos.
“I think New Zealand Rugby have done a little bit with engaging the supporters group that we have based in Auckland so they have been working really hard on promoting and getting the supporters behind the team,” he said.
“Hamilton is quite a nice stadium to play and having the crowd right next to you on the field will be a big boost if we have the numbers there. We’re expecting a big crowd however we’re still focusing on our performance (on the field) anyway.”
Tonga face a daunting start to their Hamilton Sevens campaign on Saturday against World Series leaders the United States before rounding off pool play against England and Pacific rivals Samoa.
(Source:Radio New Zealand)