With Prince Harry set to host the draw for the 2021 World Cup this Thursday at Buckingham Palace, Warrington Wolves’ Tongan star Ben Murdoch-Masila is confident that South Pacific island nation can win the tournament.
Tonga ended the 2019 season on a high, with high-profile wins over Great Britain and Australia in New Zealand in October and November.
For Thursday’s draw Tonga will be one of the four highest seeded teams in the competition alongside Australia, New Zealand and England, meaning they are favoured to at least reach the tournament semi-final.
When Tonga were defeated 34-14 by New Zealand in the Oceania Cup in June, not many people gave them a chance against the touring Lions and World Champions Australia.
They proved everyone wrong as the defeated Wayne Bennett’s GB team 14-6 at the Waikato Stadium, before going to Auckland and beating the Kangaroos 16-12 at Eden Park.
Murdoch-Masila, who played in both games, reveals how they were treated like national heroes on their return to Tonga.
“That was one of the best feelings ever,” he said.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to come away with any wins. In my mind, I just went out there to be the best I could be. After we beat Great Britain, then to go on and beat the world champions Australia was brilliant.
“No one gave us a chance. I remember watching the replay back home, listening to the commentators giving us no chance. I think Andrew Johns said something like Australia would beat us by 30 plus points.
“Our aim now is to reach the World Cup Final and win it. We are capable of it, as we have shown that with our wins over Great Britain and Australia.”
After the 16-12 win over Australia in Auckland, Murdoch-Masila’s team-mate Konrad Hurrell marked the occasion with a tattoo with the result on his leg. Murdoch-Masila got some ink himself, but not related to the game.
He added: “I was with him when he got it done. I got something different. I got the Tonga area code tattooed on my chest. I wasn’t going to be too serious about the game like the other boys. I don’t need a tattoo to remind of what I’ve done as a player. It will always be in my heart.
“We got invited back to Tonga, ourselves and our partners. We all went. We walked out of the airport with all the fans there. One thing I did notice was that we all had pick-up trucks with our faces on it. That was pretty cool. We had to drive through all the towns in them. We now have a public holiday because of the win over Australia, so to get those type of honours is pretty special.
“Rugby union is still the national sport in Tonga, but I don’t think the union team gets the same level of treatment that we got. We have been building since the 2017 World Cup, and Rugby League is definitely growing in Tonga.”
Words: David Kuzio