The Tongan sevens team was scouting in Auckland yesterday ahead of the team’s return to the Sevens World Series for three tournaments next year.
Coaches are trying to unearth some young talent at an open trial before they compete in the Hamilton, Sydney and Hong Kong legs.
The triallists were a mixture of players from provincial level, club rugby, those straight out of school and rugby league, including some who had spent time at the Warriors.
Former All Black and 15s assistant coach Pita Alatini hopes some of that talent can flow through to the 15 a-side team.
“Obviously, they’ve come off a very good program and results at the Oceania Sevens (where Tonga finished fifth), so they’ve pushed out a couple more tournaments which is great for the programme and then seeing the interest in these kids all coming out and wanting to play for our country is fantastic,” he told 1 NEWS.
“Obviously, being involved with the 15s, it gives us another little base to look at young guys coming through and if not for 2019, then obviously in years to come and 2023 with the next World Cup, we hope to feature a lot of these young kids.”
“We’ve seen them all around club rugby and some of the provincial, we’re just hoping that we can build more opportunities going forward.”
The programme has set the long-term goal of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris with Alatani saying it’s up to Tongan rugby to provide the young talent with a professional environment.
“These kids are searching for stuff like the Olympics to be part of and there’s just huge opportunities and that’s where we come in and try make sure we have a programme in place, make sure it’s professional enough.”
The team is captained by Tana Fotofili, who said it was a boost to have a bigger player pool to pick.
“We’ve been working hard for five weeks after the Oceania Sevens tournament and the boys just look excited to represent Tonga, hopefully make us proud,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of numbers, before Oceania it wasn’t that much.”
Louis Ova is one of the hopefuls to have come across from club rugby league, the chance at putting on the red of Tonga too good to pass up.
“I’ve been playing league since I was 21, I’m 26 now, I saw the opportunity online so I thought you know, I always wanted to play for Tonga, I thought this would be the opportunity to give myself a go,” he told 1 NEWS.
Ova showed good speed to score a long range try in one of the quarters but was staying realistic with strong competition.
“I’m very excited, but you’ve got to be realistic, there’s a lot of good players, they’re putting their hands up to represent Tonga so I’ve got to give it my best shot.”
John Tapueluelu was part of the Otago team that lost to Auckland in the bowl final at the recent National Sevens tournament.
The university student is more than happy to swap the blue and gold for the Tongan red as well as the cold of Dunedin for the warmer climates of Auckland after flying up for the trial.
“It’s really exciting, the opportunity God has given us,” he told 1 NEWS.
“Not many can say they’ve put on that jersey for Tonga but that’s one that I really, really want.”