The international game received a huge boost last week with the announcement that there will be a monster triple-header at the end of the 2019 NRL season.
Eden Park will play home to a genuine marquee day for the international game when Fiji meet Samoa, the Kangaroos have their epic rematch with Tonga and in the headliner the Kiwi national side will take on the Great Britain Lions.
The three games will take part of the first ever RLIF Oceania Cup, the biggest tournament outside of the World Cup, possibly ever.
I’d go so far as to say this tournament is bigger than most of the recent World Cups given the talent outside of the three traditional heavyweights.
The Lions won’t be a apart of the tournament per-say but the fact that the British team are touring for the first time since 2006 is special on its own.
It’s only March but I’ve already looked at the leave calendar at work for early November. Luckily the opening game is just a short drive down the road as flights are expensive.
This triple-header is an absolutely mammoth. The Lions vs Kiwis game is worth the price of admission alone, let alone the massive Kangaroos rematch with Tonga.
Throw in what should be an attacking masterclass between Fiji and Samoa and SIGN ME UP!!!
I’m a huge fan of the international game, unashamedly. That said, I understand why a large amount of fans are not.
Truthfully only one of three teams can win the World Cup. Most tournaments are just friendly games to work out placings before the Kiwis and England play off to face the Kangaroos in the final.
Recently that all changed with the emergence of Tonga. Although they’re a quality halfback away from consistency challenging the big three, Tonga have completely changed the face of the international game.
The 2018 fixture between the Kangaroos and Tonga was gigantic. I’d say it’s the biggest non World Cup final game that has been played by the Roos in a decade.
There were those few grudge matches against the New Zealanders after a World Cup or four nations finals loss, but no game captivated the fans like this one.
When’s the last time an international game sold out (outside of the World Cup final) let alone sold out when played in a neutral country?
That game would have sold out a much larger stadium. I honesty see the majority of fans at Eden Park wearing the red of Tonga.
The opening game seems as though it will largely be overlooked but Fiji and Samoa are locked in a battle to be the next side outside of the now top four.
Samoa had a very disappointing World Cup while Fiji emerged in a big way.
This tournament is a chance for Samoa to best Fiji. If you don’t think they see this as an opportunity to send a big message to the larger sides then you’re in denial.
I’d seriously buy a ticket just for the pre-match. The emotion in each of the nation’s war dance and in Fiji’s case the hymn is unbelievable.
Imagine seeing four plus anything that the Roos and Lions produce?
The main event may unofficially be the Tongan charge at the Kangaroos but I can’t wait to see the Lions take on a hungry Kiwi side.
They were the big losers of the most recent World Cup in that they lost to a team outside of the Roos and England. That, at this level, is not acceptable for New Zealand.
They’ve taken big steps to correct the errors made across that tournament and I believe will be back to their best by the end of 2019.
I still remember waking up early to watch the Lions tests against the Roos with my dad as a kid.
That tour, in terms of the international game, was the absolute pinnacle for a young fan. Going over there and beating the best of Britain was incredible and well worth the tired eyes.
To see them tour and clash with New Zealand in front of a sold out crowd will be absolutely incredible.
This is the shot that international league needed to take it to the next level following the Tongan injection of interest.
Players are no longer automatic selections for the big three sides, especially the Roos and Kiwis with many opting to represent other nations.
As I mentioned earlier, Tonga are just one quality half away from consistent challenges of the big sides. Perhaps someone would have had a break out season to be that quality half by the end of this year.
Either way, this is going to be a genuine marquee fixture on the league calendar.