Tonga captain Jason Taumalolo says they believe they can win the World Cup after he marked his return to action with two tries.
Taumalolo, 29, is a significant figure in the modern era of international rugby league, with his decision to commit to Tonga ahead of the 2017 creating a snowball effect.
That has led to the ongoing tournament being wide open to as many as five realistic winners of the trophy.
He said: “Yes we can (win it). We’ve had that belief since 2017 and it hasn’t wavered at all.
“I’m only starting to see the ripple effects (of his commitment to Tonga) now. You see young kids like Tesi (Niu) making the decision to play for Tonga, and that shows how much of an effect not just myself, but a few other players, to come back and represent Tonga.
“Hopefully we do see a lot more of these young kids come back and represent Tonga. I think it would be great to have a full strength side that can give those bigger teams a bit of a scare.”
Heading to the business end of the tournament
The North Queensland Cowboys forward missed Tonga’s opening two wins against Papua New Guinea and Wales through suspension.
But he was back leading from the front in Middlesbrough, scoring a brace of tries – doubling his international try tally in the process – in the first 20 minutes as Tonga thumped Cook Islands 92-10.
That set up a mouth-watering quarter-final against Samoa, which will be held in Warrington on Sunday.
Jason Taumalolo added: “We’ve had our fair share of fierce battles over the years. It’s great to see players of heritage return back and play for Samoa.
“We know they’re a tough team. They have world class players in the squad too.”
Tonga are 12/1 fourth favourites to win the World Cup with Planet Sport Bet, behind favourites Australia (2/5), New Zealand (4/1) and England (13/2).
Samoa’s odds widened after their opening day thrashing against England, but they have since played back in to form with handsome wins over Greece and France.
Only three countries have ever won the World Cup – Australia (11 times), Great Britain (three) and New Zealand (one).
The winner of the Tonga and Samoa quarter-final will go on to possibly play England in the semi-final at the Emirates Stadium.
Australia face Lebanon and New Zealand entertain Fiji in the other quarter-finals.
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