AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 25: Jason Taumalolo of Tonga leads the Sipi Tau for the crowd after losing the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between Tonga and England at Mt Smart Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

I take the same route home from work everyday. Drive past the same houses, the same parks, through the same roundabouts. After a while, it all just blends into the background.

But something was different Sunday morning. The houses nearby are unremarkable, nothing really stands out. But as I was just a few streets away from home, I saw something different.

This ancient, cozy little brick house, their grass as long as Parramatta’s premiership drought, had added a new item to the front of their house. A Tongan flag.

It stood at the top of its pole, rippling through the air. I returned home, and when I drove past the same home a few hours later, it had changed again.

There was now three Tongan flags flying in their front yard.

It wasn’t just an acknowledgement to their heritage, this was to display their pride. They can thank Jason Taumalolo for that.

Just 12 hours before those flags were first hoisted, Tonga had reaffirmed themselves as one of rugby league’s strongest international outfits.

Defeating rivals Samoa 38-22 in front of a packed Campbelltown Stadium, Tonga made a statement to the world – we demand to face the Kangaroos, we deserve to be tested against the best.

It would be one of the highest billed clashes of the year, the power and passion of Tonga up against the precision of Australia. And following all of the Kangaroos’ recent retirements, the Pacific Islanders stand as more than a fighting chance.

But without Jason Taumalolo, this would have never been a reality.

The Dally M winning lock forward made the decision on the eve of the World Cup to abandon the Kiwis, one of the competition favourites, and pledged allegiance to Tonga, rank outsiders at the time.

Days later Andrew Fifita rang Mal Meninga to inform him that he’d be jumping ship to Tonga as well.

The likes of Fifita and Taumalolo, alongside Michael Jennings, Siliva Havili, Daniel Tupou and more had all featured for a top tier nation at some point of their career. But now they’re focused on helping Tonga become one of the top tier nations.

In this world, there are two types of people – leaders, and followers. And without Taumalolo taking that first stand, who knows if the rest of big names would’ve done the same.

It’s a big step up for the Cowboys lock, who’d been slugged with the phrase ‘immature’ ever since he was caught throwing eggs at cars just a few years ago. But to make a step up and become the Tongan’s spiritual leader on the park and off it shows the maturity of the man.

With every Taumalolo hit up, with every Jennings try, every Fifita tackle, there’s another Tongan standing on a porch somewhere, hoisting the flag. The pride is restored in that red and white jersey, now it’s time to show the rugby league world what they’re capable of.

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