Titans forward David Fifita is expected to pull on a Tonga jersey for the first time in next weekend’s World Cup (RLWC) warm-up match against France in England.
Fifita is one of 21 NRL stars in the 24-man Mate Ma’a Tonga squad, which includes NSW Origin representatives Daniel Tupou and Siosifa Talakai, as well as rookie Panthers halfback Isaiya Katoa and hooker Soni Luke.
The strength of Kristian Woolf’s squad is highlighted by the players either unavailable or overlooked, including injured Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs, Wests Tigers forward Joe Ofahengaue and Bulldogs enforcer Tavita Pangai jnr.
World Cup veterans Andrew Fifita and David Fusitu’a, who were key members in the stunning rise of the Pacific nation at the 2017 World Cup, will also miss the upcoming tournament in England.
Tonga captain Will Hopoate, his St Helens team-mate Konrad Hurrell and Huddersfield playmaker Tui Lolohea are the three Super League players in the squad.
Fifita, Tupou, Talakai, Titans prop Moeaki Fotuaika, Warriors forward Ben Murdoch-Masila and Broncos fullback Tesi Niu are others who didn’t feature in the mid-season Test against the Kiwis.
The squad was announced on the Tonga Rugby League Official social media accounts on Monday.
Tonga, who are ranked No.2 on the IRL World Rankings, open their World Cup campaign against Papua New Guinea at St Helens on October 18 before meeting Wales and Cook Islands in their remaining pool matches.
Meanwhile, Prolific South Sydney try scorer Alex Johnston and Melbourne backs Justin Olam and Xavier Coates headline an experienced Papua New Guinea squad at the RLWC 2022.
Johnston, the back-to-back Ken Irvine Medallist as the NRL’s leading tryscorer, and Olam and Coates will be joined by a host of familiar faces, including Rhyse Martin, Lachlan Lam, Nene Macdonald, Watson Boas and Wellington Albert.
Fresh from clinching the Championship Player of the Year in England and helping Leigh to a place in the 2023 Super League, hooker Edwin Ipape also joins the side.
“I wanted players with experience, but I also couldn’t look past the players that did well in the Pacific Test,” Kumuls coach Stanley Tepend said.
“The bond they made and the sense of loyalty for winning that match is something to keep together. Players with the right attitude were the ones picked because that’s what’s important for the longer camp.
“The players in the UK have all been part of our Kumuls team in the past, and whenever they’ve worn the jersey none of them have let Papua New Guinea down. They’re all in good form and have all played together before, so getting them settled into camp shouldn’t be any issue.”