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Mate Ma'a Tonga, Kiwis both setting lofty goals ahead of Test - 'We've got to take another big step forward now'

Tonga insist their internal feel-good factor is as strong as ever, even though the tide appears to be out on their "Red Sea" of support for this weekend's Test against New Zealand.

Today's match at Mt Smart Stadium is unlikely to sell out, a surprising outcome given the fanatical crowds Mate Ma'a Tonga have attracted since their beefed-up team won hearts at the 2017 World Cup.

A breakdown of ticket sales suggest it is Tongan supporters who won't be showing up in the colossal numbers that made the World Cup so memorable.

The deafening numbers and red flags returned for last year's blockbuster showdown with Australia in Auckland.

Talismanic forward Jason Taumalolo joked that fans were waiting for ticket prices to drop this week before committing to the inaugural Oceania Cup Test.

He said even if numbers are down on what they've become accustomed to, there will be no let-up to his team's psyche.

"Going back into camp this week, it felt like we never left 2017," he said.

"That's one thing that I obviously enjoy about camp is the camaraderie that we have.

"But at the end of the day, it's how we go on the field that reflects how we go as a country."

It's the first meeting of the Pacific rivals since Tonga stunned the Kiwis in World Cup group play two years ago.

Taumalolo's men were eliminated in the semi-finals by England and were off the pace when overwhelmed 34-16 by the Kangaroos last October.

While Tonga are seeking greater consistency, the same could be said of New Zealand, who ended last year's 2-1 series loss in England with 34-0 thumping of the hosts in the dead-rubber final Test.

That performance mirrored their upset of Australia a month earlier and is the minimum standard demanded by coach Michael Maguire.

"We grew whilst we were away on our last tour but we've got to take another big step forward now," Maguire said.

"It's been a really good week actually but at the end of the day we'll be judged by what we do in the 80 minutes."

Cultural exchanges. Kiwis v Tonga, Rugby League World Cup, FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand. Saturday, 11 November, 2017. Copyright photo: www.photosport.nz
Cultural exchanges between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga during the Rugby League World Cup in 2017. Source: Photosport