In a headline-grabbing day for the sport and its showpiece tournament, two high-profile National Rugby League players eligible for New Zealand and Australia have instead declared their allegiance to the Tonga team.
Powerhouse forward Jason Taumalolo – who was expected to play for New Zealand – has instead opted play for Tonga, while the blockbusting Andrew Fifita has withdrawn from the Australian team and will also turn out for Tonga.
The Tonga and New Zealand teams were named this afternoon, and will square off against each other on 11 November at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium. Tonga will also play Pacific Island neighbours Samoa on 4 November. The Samoa team will also be named today (5 October).
Chad Hooker, Hamilton City Council’s Major Events Director, says the Tonga vs New Zealand match will now have an added edge following today’s announcements.
“A huge week for rugby league just got bigger with these team selections,” Mr Hooker says.
“Rugby League International Federation relaxed eligibility rules to ensure the world's best players will be playing in Rugby League World Cup 2017.
“That’s allowed the likes of Taumalolo and Fifita to choose to play for Tonga, and what a bonus that is for Hamilton – we’ll have two of the game’s most powerful players in our city for two matches.”
The two matches to be held in Hamilton had already been identified as crucial clashes for the teams involved, and will now garner more interest given the players set to appear.
Tonga will be based in Hamilton for two matches and already signalled community engagement opportunities with an official city welcome and a public training session planned for 1 November.
“Hamilton has a compact central business district, and it’s common for visiting international teams to stroll down Victoria St when they have some down-time,” Mr Hooker says.
“I think we’re going to see plenty of league fans asking the Tongan and New Zealand teams’ stars for selfies while they’re in the city!”
Hamilton’s involvement in Rugby League World Cup 2017, including the Pasifika-themed peripheral activities around the Samoa vs Tonga game, are outlined at Hamilton Host City.
Tickets for Rugby League World Cup matches are very affordable, with a family of four able to attend either of Hamilton’s two matches for $45. Tickets can be purchased from Rugby League World Cup website.