It’s been revealed that the King of Tonga contacted Australia rugby league’s governing body, the NRL, to request their help in staging an international featuring the Tongan national side.
NRL.com reported a representative of Tupou VI, contacted NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, asking for help to revive the end-of-season Test match against Australia.
The fixture has been struggling to get over the line with issues related to venue and finances slowing the process of confirming the match.
Last week it seemed a Tonga-Australia match-up was finally scuttled after the New Zealand Rugby League said it wouldn’t want it held in Auckland because it could overshadow their own team’s Test to be held the previous weekend.
However in a sign of just how much the match means to the people of Tonga, contact was made with Greenberg to reiterate the importance of the game to Tupou VI’s people and the impact last year’s World Cup had on the nation.
It was at that tournament where the Mate Ma’a Tonga made a memorable run to the semi finals, including a famous victory over New Zealand in Hamilton.
Since the conversation, Greenberg has met the NZRL to discuss the possibility of Auckland hosting the much anticipated fixture on October 20, where 30,000 people are expected to pack out Mt Smart Stadium if it is given the green light in the coming days.
The match could however rely on the Australian players agreeing to a one-off reduction in their $AD20,000 match fee they are entitled to for representing the Kangaroos.
Tupou VI flew to Auckland for last year’s semi final against England, and later invited the players back to his palace the following week to provide them with an award of the Royal Orders, such was the impact of his nation’s breakthrough performance.
Officials having been working closely for months trying to get the Tonga-Australia match on the calendar, exploring many options including New York City.
Brisbane showed a keen interest in hosting the match, however it now looks likely to be held in Auckland a week after the Kangaroos are scheduled to play New Zealand in a one-off Test match before the Kiwis travel to the UK to take on England.
Greenberg is expected to meet with the Rugby League Players’ Association chief executive Ian Prendergast, in the coming days to discuss the potential of a reduced payment acceptance by the Kangaroos.
Tongan superstar Andrew Fifita has already expressed a willingness to play for free, not concerned about the money rather the opportunity to join forces with Jason Taumalolo and company to take on the best in the world.