‘Genuine desire from everyone’ International rugby league heading in right direction, says coach

·5-min read
Tonga and Samoa players World Cup international rugby league SWpix Credit: Alamy
Tonga and Samoa players World Cup international rugby league SWpix Credit: Alamy

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf believes international rugby league is ‘heading in the right direction’ following the news of their autumn test series against England.

Woolf’s side will head over to the UK at the end of the year to face Shaun Wane’s England side in St Helens, Leeds and Huddersfield.

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The Tonga boss believes international rugby league has come a long way over the last 10 years, and is doing the right thing in building on the back of last year’s World Cup in England.

Woolf explained: “I do believe we’re starting to head that way. I’ll speak for Tonga because that’s who I’m involved with, but I do talk to Matt Parish from Samoa a lot and I know they’ve been in a similar boat for as long as we have.

“Both Matt and I have been involved for nine or 10 years now and if I go back to the years of 2013, 14, 15, 16, right up until the 2017 World Cup – you only knew you had one game every year.

“Prior to 2013, you didn’t actually know what you might have and that’s why we saw players of Tongan heritage or Tongan-born players playing for other nations and bigger nations because they knew what opportunity they had there.

“They knew if they played for New Zealand or Australia that they’d actually get to represent and play international football, they’d get games that were meaningful and they’d get to play for teams with resources that allowed them to play at their best.

“That changed a little bit in favour for countries like Samoa and Tonga in 2013 with the introduction of the Pacific Test, which was a great springboard for where we are now.

“Go over to 2017 and there has been more opportunity. We had that opportunity to play against New Zealand in the mid-season test in 2018 which was quite historic. We then got to play against Australia and Great Britain in 2019, so being able to get those opportunities is only quite new.

“Everything sort of stopped for three years with the COVID period, so we’ve had to restart a little bit but I do think there is a genuine desire from everyone.

“There is a real drive there”

“If you talk to most people involved in NRL clubs and Super League clubs and people like Troy Grant and Danny Kazandjian at the International Rugby League, there is a real drive there. I’ve had numerous conversations with Andrew Abdo at the NRL, there is a real drive to start looking at ways where we do have a more meaningful international calendar and what that might look like.

“I think you’ll find in the next month or so that there’ll be more games announced outside of the test series we’re talking about.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction, there is an appetite there. When we get to a point where that is really solid every year and when we know what it looks like a couple of years in advance, we’re probably a little bit off that just yet but I do think we’re heading towards that and we’re certainly heading in the right direction and this series is a big part of that.”

Kristian Woolf: We need to continue that upward trajectory

Woolf says the way to grow rugby league internationally is to have more of a variety of fixtures, and not just games between tier one nations Australia, New Zealand and England.

He said: “That’s how we keep building the international game.

“I was involved in the 2013 World Cup and the reality was that there was only three nations that were truly competitive and could honestly say they had a chance of winning that.

“By the time we played in 2017 that had grown to four or five and I think in 2021 we probably had six or seven that had a realistic chance of playing in the final and that showed with Samoa making the final.

“That’s what we need for the international game, we need to keep finding ways of different nations being able to play and get closer to that level, particularly countries like us, Samoa, Fiji, PNG, who are getting closer and closer and just need a little bit more experience and exposure.

“We need to continue that upward trajectory of getting closer and closer.

“We’ve now got an international game that is really exciting and one that we can be proud of and that’s only going to keep getting better.”

Tickets now on sale

The Rugby Football League have confirmed that tickets are now on sale for this autumn’s test series as they look to build on last year’s home World Cup.

Tickets are on sale now at eticketing.co.uk/rugbyleague from £25 adults and £12.50 Under-16s. A three-match bundle is also available from £52.50 Adults and £26.25 Under-16s.

The RFL say the series broadcasting and naming rights will be announced in due course.

READ NEXT: What kind of England team the Tonga coach is expecting to face this autumn

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