Manu Vatuvei credits Andrew Fifita, Jason Taumalolo for sparking talks of Tonga v Kangaroos

The Kangaroos and Mate Ma'a Tonga rugby league Test is finally happening, with Tongan star Manu Vatuvei crediting teammates Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita for sparking the conversation.

Vatuvei said Taumalolo, Fifita and other players' decision to stay with Tonga after their success at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, played a big part in having a Test confirmed against Australia next month.

The Kiwis face the Tongan Sipi Tau during the Rugby League World Cup 2017 Pool B match - New Zealand Kiwis v Tonga played at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday 11 November  2017.  

Copyright photo: © Bruce Lim / www.photosport.nz
The Kiwis face the Tongan Sipi Tau during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Source: Photosport

"It was a massive sacrifice from them, it meant a lot more for them to go represent their country (Tonga)," said Vatuvei.

"It played a big part in this match."

Taumalolo and Fifita caused a massive stir before the RLWC, when they defected from New Zealand and Australia and opted to play for Tonga in the tournament.

The Kiwis lost more players to Tonga with Parramatta second rower Manu Ma'u, Warriors utility back David Fusitu'a and Roosters front rower Sio Siua Taukeiaho confirming in October last year to play for the Pacific nation.

"I reckon after what we did in the World Cup, (we) definitely deserve to play tier one teams."

Australia are set to play Tonga on October 20 at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, the NZRL also confirmed today that the Kiwis will face Tonga next year in June.

Vatuvei says next month's Test agains the Kangaroos is a big plus for neighbouring countries Samoa and Fiji as well.

Todd Greenberg wants to see more of the Pacific nations on the world stage. Source: 1 NEWS

"It's not only for Tonga but I reckon for other Pacific Island teams too.

"It will also be a massive opportunity to grow the game and to give fans what they want."

Tonga defeated the Kiwis in pool play at the RLWC and were knocked out of the tournament after they went down 20-18 at Mount Smart in Auckland against England in the semi-final.

"I've played for the Kiwis it's a really good feeling but playing for your own country (Tonga) it takes it up to another level."

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

Vatuvei says the match will open doors for future players to choose to play for Tonga and other Pacific nations.

"Back then it was only deciding whether you are going to play for Australia or New Zealand, so right now they can decide to play for Australia, New Zealand or their home country.

"That is a massive positive for them and hopefully that will keep the game growing. You'll see a bit more talent in all the squads."

Vatuvei said the decision from both stars to stick with Tonga after the RLWC helped generate fans' interest. Source: 1 NEWS


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Injured Mate Ma'a Tonga skipper Sika Manu ruled out of Kangaroos Test

Captain Sika Manu has been ruled out of Tonga's historic rugby league Test against Australia after suffering a season-ending knee injury.

He received the injury in Hull FC's UK Super League last-round loss to St Helens only days after coach Kristian Woolf named his initial 29-strong squad.

The 31-year-old back-rower has amassed 11 Tests for the Mate Ma'a since switching his allegiance from New Zealand in 2013.

But the former Melbourne and Penrith NRL forward will miss Tonga's first Test against the Kangaroos in Auckland on October 20.

"Sika is the latest member of our squad to be ruled out for the remainder of the season and it's gutting for us," Hull FC coach Lee Radford said.

"It's gutting for him, too, because he'll miss Tonga's game against Australia next month, which would have been a great experience for him."

Woolf still has his strongest Tonga squad at his disposal, with Brisbane forward Tevita Pangai resisting pledging his allegiance to Australia to spearhead the Mate Ma'a pack with Cronulla star Andrew Fifita and North Queensland's Jason Taumalolo.

Pangai had been toying with making himself available for NSW's State of Origin side next year.

Scott Sorensen - nephew of Kiwi greats Dane and Kurt Sorensen - is Tonga's latest convert after the Cronulla forward was named in the extended squad.

Sorensen will feature off the bench in the Sharks' Friday night preliminary final against Melbourne.

The 29-strong squad has a monster pack but also backline speed to burn, with Warriors' NRL top try-scorer David Fusitu'a, Parramatta's Michael Jennings, Canterbury's Will Hopoate, South Sydney winger Robert Jennings and the Sydney Roosters' Daniel Tupou included.

The final squad will be named next month before Woolf takes Tonga on a 10-day camp.

Tonga's Sika Manu celebrates the win. Kiwis v Tonga, Rugby League World Cup, FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand. Saturday, 11 November, 2017. Copyright photo: John Cowpland / www.photosport.nz
Tonga's Sika Manu celebrates beating the Kiwis. Source: Photosport


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Cronulla veteran Paul Gallen ruled out of Sharks finals match against Storm

Cronulla will have to win their way to the NRL grand final without captain Paul Gallen after he was ruled out of Friday night's preliminary final against Melbourne with a shoulder injury.

The 37-year-old trained with the Sharks on Thursday and travelled to Melbourne with the team despite tearing tore ligaments in his shoulder during last week's one-point win over Penrith.

The Sharks had planned to give Gallen until midday on Friday to prove his fitness, but after further assessment on Thursday afternoon in Melbourne they made the call to end his race against the clock early.

However, they remain hopeful Gallen could return for next Sunday's grand final if the Sharks qualify.

"If it was a Sunday game I would say he'd be in," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said earlier on Thursday.

"He definitely improved. He loves this club and has been there all his career. He'd do anything to get out on the field and get to another grand final."

Gallen's absence will come as a massive blow to the Sharks, who are already without fellow back-rower Wade Graham.

Gallen and Graham are among the best grinding players in the NRL, the exact style of play which the Sharks have used to beat Melbourne in four of their past five meetings.

The Storm had expected Gallen to play all week, and were still preparing as if that was the case in their final training session on Thursday morning.

Kangaroos forward Aaron Woods is now expected to come into Cronulla's starting side, while 166-game NRL veteran Joseph Paulo will join the Sharks' 17 for his first finals appearance.

Flanagan admitted Gallen would be difficult to replace.

"Gal is our captain and the way he plays is very similar to what we're all about," he said.

"He's tough and ruthless and he's our forward leader. Someone is going to come in and stand up and do the job, and hopefully as good as Gal."

Meanwhile, Josh Dugan is expected to overcome a shoulder injury to be fit to take his place on one wing.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Paul Gallen of the Sharks is tackled during the NRL semi-final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium on September 14, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Paul Gallen of the Sharks is tackled during the NRL semi-final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium. Source: Getty


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Sam Burgess likely to play semi after NRL boss says investigation into sexting scandal won't be rushed

South Sydney star Sam Burgess appears set to play in Saturday's grand final qualifier despite being involved in a sexting scandal that the NRL integrity unit is investigating.

The Rabbitohs were rocked last week by a woman's allegations that a social media account owned by Burgess was used to communicate lewd video of two players to her in May.

There were fears the matter would result in a player being suspended from the rest of this year's finals series, including their preliminary final against the Sydney Roosters.

However, NRL boss Todd Greenberg said while the case is expected to be finalised as soon as possible, he would not be rushed into a decision on potential bans.

"We've made a consistent approach to these things, we've been doing it for a number of years now," Greenberg said on Thursday.

"We'll deal with the details and issues in the investigation, we won't make decisions on the run."

Greenberg refused to address speculation that the woman, who is believed to have initially taken her concerns to the club before going public, is refusing to be interviewed by the integrity unit.

"I'm not going to comment specifically on who's being interviewed and who's not," he said.

"But I will say to you is for us to be able to land at a conclusion and complete the investigation it requires us to try our very hardest to talk to as many people as possible.

"And that's what the integrity unit are doing at the moment."

It is the second off-field incident to embarrass the NRL since the end of the regular season, with Canterbury being fined for their ill-advised Mad Monday behaviour.

Greenberg admitted the damaging headlines have taken the gloss off what has so far been one of the closest finals series in recent memory.

"I'd much prefer to be talking to you today about what will be a full house in Sydney at Allianz Stadium to farewell what's been a great stadium, and a full house in Melbourne," he said.

"But I'm also a realist.

"I understand that, from time to time, issues will come on our table and you will judge us on two things: on the issue itself and how we deal with it.

"We've got a pretty strong track record in rugby league and (as) an integrity unit, to deal with those issues methodically, professionally, appropriately and then hand a decision."

Sam Burgess of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Source: Photosport


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Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy defends Storm from Sharks 'grubs' attack

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy says Cronulla's verbal attack on his team is laughable, adding further spice to their NRL preliminary final tomorrow night.

The AAMI Park clash is threatening to erupt after barbs were launched this week from the Sharks, prompting Bellamy to defend his team today.

Sharks prop Matt Prior claimed the Storm practised ugly, niggling tactics.

"Most other clubs in the competition would be sitting back laughing about them calling us grubs," Bellamy said.

"They're trying to make out they're holier-than-thou and they're the squeaky- clean Sharks.

"Well, we all know better than that."

No love has been lost between the two sides since Cronulla's drought-breaking 2016 grand final win, with the Sharks dominating Melbourne since.

Bellamy said the Storm needed to put the blinkers on and focus on playing their own game.

"Whatever that record is we haven't had the best of it but the games have always been close," he said.

Craig Bellamy coach of the Melbourne Storm. Source: Photosport

"We haven't changed things too much, some of our starts have been pretty poor when we've played them but we need to stick to what works for us and stick to the plan."

The Storm were preparing for Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen to play in the grand final qualifier despite a serious shoulder injury.

Gallen's inclusion will set the scene for another round with Storm centre Will Chambers, who was suspended for a grapple tackle on the Sharks forward earlier in the season.

Chambers hasn't played for the past month due to a three-match ban with his Storm coach saying he wanted controlled aggression from the Test and State of Origin centre.

"He's been training hard so hopefully he will be OK," Bellamy said.

"He's played a lot of big games, it's not like he's a 21-year-old coming in.

"Hopefully he's learnt from a couple of games this year when he's been suspended.

"We don't need that from him.

"We need him to go and get his job done and be aware when it's the right time to do certain things and when it's the wrong time."

Billy Slater. Vodafone Warriors v Melbourne Storm, NRL Rugby League round 19, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. 22 July 2018. Copyright Image: Renee McKay / www.photosport.nz
The Storm celebrate in their 12-6 win over the Warriors. Source: Photosport


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