Wests Tigers prop Joe Ofahengaue says he can’t even describe the pride he feels inside every time he gets to pull on the red jersey of his beloved Tonga.
The 26-year-old has won seven caps for Tonga since making his international debut in 2015.
Ofahengaue was born in New Zealand to Tongan parents before moving to Australia when he was nine.
“It’s hard to explain because when I started playing for Tonga in 2015 we didn’t have the big fanbase we have now. When Jase (Taumalolo) and that came back, our fanbase just rocketed.
“You get taught so much stuff about our culture when you are in camp. You think you know about Tonga before those camps, but then you get taught more. It brings you closer to your ancestors.
“You feel everything leading up to a game, especially when we play Samoa. We get told the stories about back in the day and how our islands used to go to war.
“There’s a lot of pride and tears that come out but it is something you can’t really explain until you put that jersey on.
“All you think about when you sing the anthem is your family back in Tonga. You think about the money they’ve spent on hiring a TV and Wi-Fi to watch the game; and that’s what brings the tears out. That’s why you see them cry because you are thinking about the people back on the island.”
Joe Ofahengaue on Tonga’s chances of World Cup glory
The Tigers front-rower was part of the Tonga side that fell short to England in the semi-finals at the last World Cup. Ofahengaue then was part of the Tongan squad which claimed historic wins over Australia and Great Britain in 2019.
But he has warned they must improve on their most recent test match, which was a 26-6 defeat to New Zealand in June.
“Based on the last game we were involved in, if we were to play like that then no chance,” Ofahengaue said when asked about their World Cup prospects.
“We’ve got a big chance if everyone comes in fit; and if we get our half-backs (Tui Lolohea, Ata Hingano) from England. Will Hopoate will be a big plus for us if he’s cleared to play.
“But I think if Tonga are to win then we’ve got to buy in to our defence. That’s what is going to beat Australia and New Zealand. They have all the world class attackers but if we are going to be contenders then we’re going to have to defend.
“I think we ran away with games at times at the last World Cup because we were so good at attacking but the game has changed so much. We’ve got to really buy in to winning our tackles and kick chases will be a big one for us.”
Tonga are in a group with Papua New Guinea, Wales and the Cook Islands at this year’s World Cup.
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