Kristian Woolf: Tonga can give the World Cup a shake

Kristian Woolf says Tonga have what it takes to go one better than in 2017 by making the World Cup final and that it’s his job to ensure they are even better prepared for 2022.

St Helens’ Australian coach has overseen the Polynesian nation’s Rugby League team since 2014 and has led them from a ranking of 16th in the world to fourth.

While Tonga went out at the group stage of the 2013 World Cup, four years later they topped their section with three wins from three, beating New Zealand in the process, then saw off Lebanon before a two-point semi-final loss to England.

Since then, the Mate Ma’a have defeated both the touring Great Britain team and, in the 2019 Oceania Cup, Australia, which Woolf says was a special moment and a sign of what can be achieved.

“At one time, to commit to Tonga pretty much meant not knowing what you were committing to, because there was no set schedule of matches or get-togethers,” Woolf explained.

“That has really changed. We are now number four in the world; we have beaten all three of the sides above and we are at the forefront what’s happening in international Rugby League.

“It all comes down to a special group of players who are willing to stick up for what they believe in and fight for what they deserve.

“We have broken away from the pattern of the best Tongans playing for Australia and New Zealand.

“While things are a lot better now, there are still a lot more privileges and resources with Australia and New Zealand.

“There are a lot of reasons to play for those two, but our players make sacrifices and it really means something to them to play for Tonga.”

Woolf’s side will face Papua New Guinea, Wales and the Cook Islands in Group D next Autumn, and he added: “We have the ability to achieve more than 2017, to get to the World Cup Final and to win it.

“There are a lot of things in our way, but we have some terrific young players who have become first graders, and in next twelve months, will have cemented themselves as even stronger first graders.

“We are in a better position to put together a really strong side who can give the World Cup a shake.”

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