Sione Tu’itahi, a former Tongan journalist, writer and lecturer at Massey University and now
director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand said these players were true patriots who gave everything for their purposes.
Tu’itahi said the players showed in their performance against England at the Mt Smart on
Saturday 25 they loved and remembered their homeland.
Tonga lost to England 18-20 in what many have described as history in the making.
Tu’itahi said Tonga was defeated according to the referee and the scoreboard, but they have won in the hearts of the rugby league community because of their great performance in the field.
He said the players showed the meaning of the Tongan proverb: “Do not count on your injuries, only count on what you have achieved” (‘Oua ‘e lau kafo kae lau lava).
The players showed what most immigrants have when they arrived in their new home.
They used the opportunity to use their talents to earn a living and contribute to their homeland and the international community, Tu’itahi said.
Tu’itahi said the Tongan “young youth” who lived overseas countries and played for Tonga
during the World Cup tournament on Saturday were ‘ofa kāinga (love their relatives).
They had offered to play for their “small and poor country,” which lacked natural resources but was rich in religious spirit and education.
These players’ parents sacrificed their lives by leaving their own lands in Tonga.
They worked hard as labourers in Australia, the United States and New Zealand to give their children better lives, Tu’itahi said.
This had created in their children attitudes of striving to be successful while remembering how difficult the way had been for their parents.
This had also created in them a deep love for their parents and willingness to give back and help their families, churches and the nation.
The Tongan team had been made up of mostly players who unexpectedly defected from their New Zealand and Australian’s teams and offered to play for Tonga.
It was Jason Taumālolo, who last year signed a 10-year $10 million deal with North Queensland, who first made the move to represent Tonga instead of New Zealand.
Tui Lolohea (Wests Tigers), Solomone Kata (Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Titans), Manu Vatuvei (Salford), Manu Ma’u (Eels) and David Fusitu’a (Warriors) also joined him and made themselves available for Tonga.
“New Zealand players receive $30,000 just for pulling on the Kiwis jersey and can earn up to $50,000 by winning the World Cup final. Tonga can only afford to pay their stars $3000 for the entire tournament and a $30-a-day per diem.”
The Tongan government said after a fundraising it organised for the team during the tournament the “players understand our financial limitations as a country and do not expect any more money.”
Arrival in Tonga
Most of the team and the staff arrived in Tonga yesterday and were met with hundreds of jubilant Tongans at the Fu’amotu International airport. They were later welcomed at the Tanoa hotel in Nuku’alofa by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva.
Mate Ma’a Tonga exited the World Cup tournament after they were controversially defeated
on Saturday on their semi-final match against England.
The decision by the referee to not refer the controversial try by Andrew Fifita to video referees has caused controversy in the rugby league community.
The controversy had divided Tongans, with many supporting a move to launch an action against the referee, while others, including MMT player Konrad Hurrel, have called on supporters to move on and withdraw from any further protests.
The Tongan centre addressed fans after protests in Auckland following the devastating loss to England.
“As much as we would love to be at the final next week, let’s stop the protest and move on,” Hurrel told New Zealand’s One News.
Today has been declared a public holiday in the kingdom to celebrate the national team’s achievement.
The team will be welcomed to the Palace this evening where the players will be awarded with Royal Orders by the king.