The NRL has officially announced the fixtures for its stand-alone Representative Round, which will feature a slew of international matches, as well as State of Origin games for both the men's and women's competitions.
The Round will begin on Friday 24 June at Canberra's GIO Stadium with this year's match the fifth official bout between the two states for the women's competition.
NSW and Queensland have both previously won two games of the last four, so this fifth fixture is expected to be contested, and on the first neutral-site the game has ever been played.
Then, on Saturday 25 June New Zealand will host Tonga in Auckland for the first elite rugby league fixture to be played in the country since COVID-19 forced the game to be played exclusively on Australian soil.
That same day - Saturday 25 June - Campbelltown Stadium will play host to a Pacific doubleheader when Somao takes on the Cook Islands, and Papua New Guinea takes on Fiji.
The Round will culminate in Game II of the men's 2022 State of Origin series, set to be played at Perth's Optus Stadium on Sunday 26 June.
The test matches represent a significant milestone in the return of international play, with the fixtures put on hold throughout the last two seasons.
“The Commission has made it clear that growing international Rugby League would be a priority and we are delivering on that promise. Representative Round will provide a return to the excitement and national pride that Test matches produce,” he said.
“The Pacific Test Matches will be vital for these nations as they prepare for the World Cup later this year and importantly, for our fans, a chance to watch their heroes live in their national colours. The passion of the Pacific Nations and their fans is something unique to rugby league.
“This is part of a long term plan to grow the international game in conjunction with International Rugby League and member countries. We’ve seen with the growth and success of Tonga in recent years and we want to capitalise on the potential depth of our Test playing nations.”
Not only will these test matches be important in the transition to the return of international play, but they will have a significant bearing on the eligibility come the Rugby League World Cup, to be played in England later this year.
According to NRL.com's Brad Walter, a new rule has been put in place for international play where if a player represents their Pacific heritage at any point throughout the year, they're no longer able to swap between nations.
"The new rule will prevent 11th hour defections, like that of Jason Taumololo, Andrew Fifita, David Fusitu’a and Siosiua Taukeiaho from New Zealand and Australia to Tonga at the 2017 World Cup," Walter's said.
International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant is adamant these matches will prove invaluable ahead of the World Cup in October.
“It is great to be able to give the players from the Pacific nations time together ahead of the World Cup. We are also really excited to have the chance to kick start and rejuvenate international rugby league in the Southern Hemisphere after the impact of the pandemic,” Grant said.
“There has been very little opportunity to play international matches for more than two years and we know how passionate the players from the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga are about representing their nations.
“We are very grateful to the ARLC, NRL, clubs and each of the nations involved for their support and contribution towards what is an important and significant weekend for international rugby league.”