Woolf returns to work

Townsville Blackhawks coach Kristian Woolf says NRL clubs have not come ringing in the wake of Tonga’s game-changing Rugby League World Cup campaign.

Then again Woolf was never hanging by the phone.

Woolf arrived back at work with the Blackhawks last week, just days after visiting Tonga with the rest of his Mate Ma’a squad and receiving a hero’s welcome from the Island kingdom’s fanatical supporters, including its royal family.

Tonga’s inspired run to the semi-finals, which included knocking over 2008 world champions New Zealand, was the story of this year’s World Cup, as were Tonga’s unified and passionate supporters.

Woolf was at the helm of it all, and in the process his name was put on a global platform as Cowboys star Jason Taumalolo and his Mate Ma’a teammates came within touching distance of a World Cup grand final berth.

But as far as Woolf is concerned the World Cup was not a stepping stone for his club coaching career.

“To be honest with you that’s not something that interested me,” Woolf said.

“I just really enjoyed my time with those blokes and I enjoyed the experiences during the World Cup.

“I’ve been with Tonga now for five years and it hasn’t always been in the spotlight like it was during the World Cup.

“I don’t do it for that (personal recognition), I do it because I enjoy the group and the way I’m accepted.”

Woolf brushed off suggestions NRL clubs might be lining up for his services in the wake of Tonga’s giant-killing run; “No,” he said with a chuckle.

Woolf is, however, holding out hope his star-studded Tonga squad, which made pre- tournament shockwaves courtesy of Taumalolo’s late defection from New Zealand — and Andrew Fifita’s pledge to the Mate Ma’a — will stay together.

Under the new eligibility rules players with dual eligibility, such as Taumalolo and Fifita, are able to nominate one Tier 1 nation (Australia, New Zealand and England) and one Tier 2 or 3 nation they are eligible to represent.

“I think they’ve done something really special as a group, they’ve changed the face of rugby league,” Woolf said.

“They’ve really changed it in a lot of ways, so I’d love to see them stay with Tonga.

“But that’s a personal thing for them, and I’ll support them which ever way they go.

“The thing is you need something to commit to, and that can’t just be a one-off Pacific Test.

“They need to know that when New Zealand are going to play games against England, they’ve got something to look forward to as well.

Woolf continued; “They also need to know they’re not going to be asked to make the same massive (financial) sacrifice in every game as they already have,” he said.

“So we need to make these games happen, but we also have to make sure the players are respected and looked after.”

Woolf reaffirmed his stance that Tonga and New Zealand should now play an annual Test in New Zealand.

“It needs a lot of support from the international rugby league, it needs support from the NRL, and it needs New Zealand rugby league to want to do it as well,” he said.

“They’re all things that I’m not sure about ... no one’s really jumped at it yet, that’s the best way to put it.

“For me it’s a no-brainer; you would get 30,000 people at Mt Smart Stadium on a regular basis, and it just grows and grows every year it’s played.”


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