England will host Tonga in a three-Test series this Autumn – the first ever international series between the two nations and the first time they have met since 2017’s memorable Rugby League World Cup Semi-final in Auckland.
Tickets are on sale now for matches at St Helens (Totally Wicked Stadium, Sunday 22 October), Huddersfield (John Smith’s Stadium, Saturday 28 October) and Leeds (Headingley Stadium, Saturday 4 November).
Tonga last played England in this country in the 2006 Federation Shield Final – won by 32-14 by England – and the two did not meet again until the November 2017 when the Polynesians, trailing 20-0 with only seven minutes remaining, came within a whisker of overturning the deficit and denying England a final place at the death, eventually losing 20-18.
Two years later the Tongans would emphatically announce themselves as a force on the international stage, with outstanding victories over Australia and Great Britain. With the three-time Super League-winning coach Kristian Woolf at the helm and the outstanding NRL forward Jason Taumalolo likely to be in his squad, Tonga will present a significant challenge to Shaun Wane’s side.
England Head Coach, Shaun Wane, says: “I’m absolutely thrilled at the prospect of hosting a such a huge, three-game Test series against Tonga later this year.
“Throughout my time as England Head Coach I have said we need to challenge ourselves against the best sides the international game has to offer – and Tonga are certainly one of those. They’ve been a real success story on the international stage in recent years, building on their exploits at the 2017 World Cup, and they will offer a real test.
“The series offers another chance to showcase the international game on home soil following on from the success of last year’s World Cup. It’s also a great opportunity for us to get three high-quality Test Matches under our belt as we continue to push towards the next World Cup in 2025. Hopefully we see the Rugby League public come out and support us once again as we look for a series victory.”
Tonga’s last game in England was November’s Rugby League World Cup Quarter-final against Samoa at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium – one of the highlights of the tournament both on and off the pitch. The two sides captivated the crowd and TV viewers pre-match with their fierce yet mutually respectful war dances – the Sipi Tau and Sivi Tau – before delivering a classic encounter on the pitch, Samoa triumphing 20-18 to book a semi-final date with England.
Kristian Woolf, Tonga Rugby League Head Coach, adds: “There is no doubt that this is another historic moment for Tongan Rugby League. This will be the first time one of the Pacific Nations has been invited to play in a full three-Test series against England, in the place where our great game began.
“It is easy to forget that this is an honour usually only reserved for countries like Australia and New Zealand. I know our players are excited by this challenge, and are also keen to go back to England to try and prove what we can do in the Northern Hemisphere. We feel we did not showcase our best at last year’s World Cup, and this will be an opportunity for Tonga to correct that.”
RL Commercial Managing Director, Rhodri Jones, says: “Down the years Tonga have brought us some of Rugby League’s most memorable World Cup moments – from 1995 when they outplayed hot favourites New Zealand in an incredible game at Wilderspool, only to lose 25-24, through to that enthralling encounter with England in 2017 which will live long in the memory of all who were present. Two years later they shook off the ‘nearly’ tag and defeated the Kangaroos, then Great Britain.
“Tonga will bring incredible passion, as well as outstanding skills. So too will England – and the passion of our supporters can help take us to victory. We have chosen high quality, accessible stadia in Rugby League heartlands and tickets will sell fast. This is a Test Series not to be missed.
The announcement has been welcomed by the International Rugby League (IRL). IRL chair Troy Grant adds: “The announcement of the historic series between England and Tonga provides clarity around international content and builds on the back of a great World Cup in England last October and November.
“The Tonga players and officials, led by coach Kristian Woolf, have pioneered the rise of international Rugby League since the 2017 World Cup and they will create further history by becoming the first Pacific Islands nation to play a full international series against England in England.
“I would like to thank Tonga for making this investment in international Rugby League in the Northern Hemisphere and wish them every success as they seek revenge.”
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Series broadcasting and naming rights will be announced in due course.