International Rugby League chair Troy Grant has welcomed confirmation of Tonga’s historic tour to England at the end of the season.
England will host Tonga in three internationals at St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds on October 22, 28 and November 4 – the inaugural series between the two nations and their first meeting since the epic 2017 World Cup semi-final in Auckland.
It is also the first time a Pacific nation has played a series against a Tier 1 nation or toured the United Kingdom to play a full international, outside of World Cups fixtures.
“The announcement of the historic series between England and Tonga provides clarity around international content and builds on the back of a great World Cup in England last October and November.
“The Tonga players and officials, led by coach Kristian Woolf, have pioneered the rise of international Rugby League since the 2017 World Cup and they will create further history by becoming the first Pacific Islands nation to play a full international series against England in England.
“I would like to thank Tonga for making this investment in international rugby league in the Northern Hemisphere and wish them every success as they seek revenge.”
Tonga last played England in England in the 2006 Federation Shield Final – won 32-14 by England – and the two nations did not meet again until the RLWC2017 semi-final, won 20-18 by England.
After beating New Zealand earlier in the tournament, Tonga stunned the Kangaroos in 2019 and toppled Great Britain in Auckland.
While disappointed to lose 20-18 to Samoa in the quarter-final of last year’s World Cup in England, Tonga inspired the success of their Pacific neighbours in reaching the final and Woolf’s men are again paving the way.
“There is no doubt that this is another historic moment for Tongan rugby league,” Woolf said.
“This will be the first time one of the Pacific Nations has been invited to play in a full three-Test series against England, in the place where our great game began.
“It is easy to forget that this is an honour usually only reserved for countries like Australia and New Zealand.
“I know our players are excited by this challenge, and are also keen to go back to England to try and prove what we can do in the Northern Hemisphere.
“We feel we did not showcase our best at last year’s World Cup, and this will be an opportunity for Tonga to correct that.”
With the likes of Jason Taumalolo, Felise Kaufusi, Daniel Tupou, David Fifita and Isaiya Katoa likely to in the Tonga side, the series will provide the challenge England coach Shaun Wane and his players have been craving.
Wane will be able to call on his NRL stars, including Victor Radley, Dom Young, Herbie Farnworth, Tom Burgess and Elliott Whitehead.
“I’m absolutely thrilled at the prospect of hosting a such a huge, three-game Test series against Tonga later this year,” Wane said.
“Throughout my time as England head coach I have said we need to challenge ourselves against the best sides the international game has to offer – and Tonga are certainly one of those.
“They’ve been a real success story on the international stage in recent years, building on their exploits at the 2017 World Cup, and they will offer a real test.
“The series offers another chance to showcase the international game on home soil following on from the success of last year’s World Cup.
“It’s also a great opportunity for us to get three high-quality Test Matches under our belt as we continue to push towards the next World Cup in 2025.
“Hopefully we see the Rugby League public come out and support us once again as we look for a series victory.”
RL Commercial managing director, Rhodri Jones, said: “Down the years Tonga have brought us some of rugby league’s most memorable World Cup moments – from 1995 when they outplayed hot favourites New Zealand in an incredible game at Wilderspool, only to lose 25-24, through to that enthralling encounter with England in 2017 which will live long in the memory of all who were present.
“Two years later they shook off the ‘nearly’ tag and defeated the Kangaroos, then Great Britain.
“Tonga will bring incredible passion, as well as outstanding skills. So too will England – and the passion of our supporters can help take us to victory.
“We have chosen high quality, accessible stadia in Rugby League heartlands and tickets will sell fast. This is a Test Series not to be missed.”