Tonga have begun preparing for the future by naming some emerging players alongside big-name stars in their World Cup Nines squad to be coached by David Tangata-Toa.
Jason Taumalalo, Andrew Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Tevita Pangai jnr headline the Tonga Nines squad, which also includes North Queensland utility John Asiata, incoming Canterbury hooker Sione Katoa, his name-sake from Cronulla and a host of up-and-coming NRL players.
Among them are highly rated Broncos fullback Fantesi Niu. Cowboys forward Peter Hola, Manly’s Tevita Funa and NSW under 20s winger Tuipulotu Katoa, who plays for the Bulldogs and is the brother of Sharks winger Sione Katoa.
Jamil Hopoate, who plays for Brisbane and is the brother of Canterbury centre Will Hopoate, will make his debut for Tonga, along with Penrith winger Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, who is the brother of Bulldogs fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, and Warriors under 20s fullback William Fakatoumafi
Wests Tigers winger Robert Jennings and former Tigers centre Delouise Hoeter, who plays for Wynum-Manly, have both been selected after one previous Test appearance each for Tonga.
“There are a couple of young guys coming through and some of our big names as well so it is a bit of a mixed bag,” Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said. “There are some guys there with a lot of excitement in them too.”
Woolf has handed over the reins of the World Cup Nines squad to Tangata-Toa, who has been his assistant coach with the Tonga side since 2014.
Tangata-Toa was an assistant to North Queensland coach Paul Green this season after last year steering Townsville Blackhawks to the minor premiership in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup.
He previously enjoyed similar success as coach of Penrith under 20s.
“David has been an assistant with us since 2014 and has progressed from coaching Penrith under 20s up to the Queensland Cup into now being an NRL assistant coach so I think it is really good for his progression and a job that he is certainly ready for at this stage of his career,” Woolf said.
Ofahengaue and Pangai both still have time left to serve on suspensions incurred playing for the Broncos but are eligible for the Nines and will miss the October 26 Test against Great Britain Lions in Hamilton.
They will be eligible to play in the Oceania Cup clash against Australia at Eden Park which will be part of a triple-header on November 2, along with New Zealand-Great Britain and Samoa-Fiji.
Tonga World Cup Nines Squad
John Asiata (North Queensland Cowboys)
William Fakatoumafi (NZ Warriors)
Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)
Tevita Funa (Manly Sea Eagles)
Delouise Hoeter (Wynnum-Manly Seagulls)
Peter Hola (North Queensland Cowboys)
Jamil Hopoate (Brisbane Broncos)
Robert Jennings (Wests Tigers)
Sione Katoa (Cronulla Sharks)
Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers)
Tuipulotu Katoa (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Fanitesi Niu (Brisbane Broncos)
Joe Ofahengaue (Brisbane Broncos)
Tevita Pangai jnr (Brisbane Broncos)
Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)