After one horrible rugby league-less weekend, long-suffering fans can take relief this weekend in the form of a double header featuring the men’s and women’s versions of the New Zealand Kiwis vs the Australian Kangaroos.
The trans-Tasman clashes will kick off a monster fortnight for the international game.
For too long the international game has failed to peak interest for fans. A broken schedule combined with dominance by two sides (or one side truthfully) has meant that international fixtures have proved to be little more than a better option that the round ball game.
Last year’s World Cup breathed new live into the concept thanks to the emergence of traditionally third-tier nations such as Tonga and Fiji.
The relaxing of rules to allow those who didn’t make the squads of the three top tier nations was perfect, allowing them to represent their nations of birth or background. The likes of James Tedesco, Jarryd Hayne and Mitch Moses all starred for their respective sides.
Although this has been in play for a few years now, the 2017 World Cup saw plenty of top tier talent overlooked by Australia and New Zealand, freeing up top quality players to represent other nations.
The decision of the game’s top forward in Jason Taumalolo to bypass representing the Kiwis in favour of playing for Tonga started an absolutely wave of support for the international game that I’ve ever witnessed before.
Andrew Fifita, a premiership winner, NSW and first choice Kangaroo prop also declared for Tonga allowing the Tongan side to enter the competition with two of the best forwards in the game.
Throw in the likes of Michael Jennings, David Fusitua and Will Hopoate and you had the nucleus of a very, VERY competitive side.
Tonga’s clash with Samoa was by far the highlight of the group stages, although Fiji’s pre-match anthem ran a close second.
Tonga beating New Zealand in the quarter final was the biggest and best result for international league in my 30+ years of being a fan.
It is again the presence of Tonga that helps bring importance to the next fortnight.
Please don’t get me wrong, there is no such thing as a throwaway clash between the Roos and Kiwis. We have monster clashes across the park.
The Kiwis will be licking their lips at the chance to upset the World Champions.
It’s a new look New Zealand side and despite a few injuries it is still a very strong side. Those who doubt that statement just need to look at the fact that Marty Taupau can’t even find a spot in the run on side.
This is the biggest clash in terms of the women’s game also. Plenty of Broncos premiership players will be wearing the New Zealand colours while a few break out stars of the recent competition are representing the Roos.
Although, with all due respect, the upcoming men’s Trans Tasman test fails in comparison to the upcoming clash between the Kangaroos and Tonga.
The excitement in Tonga has hit fever pitch with literally thousands crowding the streets in the country’s colours.
Next Saturday’s sold out fixture will be as close to a Tongan home game you’ll ever witness outside of the league-mad nation.
It will also be the very first Test match between the two sides.
Normally, fixtures involving the Kangaroos outside of the occasional England or New Zealand Test have become known as training runs.
This contest will be no training run.
The Kangaroos will enter as heavy favourites but the Tongan side has a forward pack that would frighten any side in the world. They also have incredible strike power out wide. They’ll also have 20,000 fans screaming their every run and tackle.
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a Test match outside of perhaps a World Cup final.
Fifita, Taumalolo and Tevita Pangai are just three men lining up to shock the World by defeating the World Champions.
On the wings will be Premiership winner Daniel Tupou and NRL leading try scorer David Fusitu’a. Inside them will be the likes of Kata, Hurrell, Jennings and Hopoate.
This Tongan side is packed with Origin and representative talent who have CHOSEN to play for their nation.
For the international game to fire, nations outside of Australia need to develop to a point they become a force. This Tongan side is just that nation.
Samoa, Lebanon and Fiji are other sides who can one day challenge the three major nations but right now I’d almost back Tonga in over New Zealand.
England are there or thereabouts too.
That’s four major international sides on the scene for the first time in my living memory.
Tonga’s emergence will also surely fire the Kiwis to play their best footy also.
That’s not even taking into the account seeing a new look Roos side containing the likes of Tedesco, Luke Keary and Damien Cook.
That’s not even taking into the account the upcoming women’s test match.
What a fortnight.