TMTRL prepare for IRL membership despite govt concerns

The Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League (TMTRL) will apply for membership to the sport's world governing body after receiving unanimous backing from clubs that attended its annual general meeting last Friday.

Twenty-two clubs reportedly attended the meeting recognising TMTRL as the governing body of rugby league in Tonga. They also voted unanimously that TMTRL apply immediately for membership of International Rugby League, to fill the position left vacant by the expulsion of the previous body, the TNRL, in March.

The inaugural meeting saw the adoption of a new constitution, including new compliance and guidelines at the request of clubs as well as the appointment of key board roles.

Five director-nominees from Tonga's registered rugby league clubs were unanimously voted onto the board.

Semisi Sika, an opposition MP who was president of the previous TNRL administration dissolved by a court order, has been elected as Chair while the current Speaker of Parliament, Lord Fakafanua, has been elected as President.

John Paul Chapman was voted in unanimously as Finance and Compliance Director.

The new board will be joined by former captain Sika Manu and current national team player Will Hopoate as two player-directors elected by the national playing squad.

TMTRL's new Chair declared he would call a board meeting at the earliest opportunity.

Prior to his election, Semisi Sika said sacrifices would need to be made by the board in line with the sacrifices made by Tonga's international players.

"This federation is not to be politicised as sport needs to be independent of that polarizing element," he said.

"I am convinced that the future direction of Tongan rugby league is bright with this new board."

Sika said there would be a focus on supporting Tonga's coach, Kristian Woolf, and the international team for success in the upcoming tests and next year's World Cup.

Lord Fakafanua said he was compelled to move TMTRL in a sustainable and inclusive direction for the sport's development in Tonga.

While an IRL-appointed implementation committee continued to work with the TMTRL for membership, the Tongan government expressed concern regarding the establishment of the implementation committee and the lack of consultation by the IRL.

In a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, the Tongan government said it holds strong reservations regarding the committee, "including the appropriateness of the proposed governance structure, the composition of its membership and the institutional arrangement."

It also questioned whether the IRL could be neutral or unbiased in its forming of the committee.

Finally the government pointed to TNRL's proceedings before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, in a final bid to remain the governing body for the sport in the kingdom, saying it would abide by their final ruling.