League: Hopoate calls for Tonga-Samoa series

Quentin Togaga'e of Samoa heads for the try line during the international friendly match against Tonga in the weekend. Photo / Getty Images
Quentin Togaga'e of Samoa heads for the try line during the international friendly match against Tonga in the weekend. Photo / Getty Images

Former NRL star John Hopoate has called for Samoa and Tonga to play-off in an annual three-match country of origin series, which could serve as polynesian rugby league's answer to State of Origin.

Players and officials from Samoa and Tonga have pleaded for the Test to become a more regular fixture, to strengthen the developing nations and to reflect the growing percentage of Polynesian athletes playing the game.

Hopoate's suggestion of a three-match series has received strong backing, with the pacific island nations sharing a rivalry which goes far deeper than hostilities between NSW and Queensland.

"I reckon we have three Tests a year every year, they need to build these countries up," said Hopoate, after Samoa beat Tonga 22-6 last Sunday.

"If you're not going to have a State of Origin type series - they have the NRL All Stars and the Aboriginal All Stars - they should have the Islanders' All Stars, because the NRL is full of islander players.

"I had the chance to play for Tonga or Australia and I took Australia only because Australia pay and they look after their players.

"If someone could help us out we could make better games for Australia and New Zealand.

"They don't want to play themselves and England all the time, they want to play other teams and down the track we could give them a challenge."

As it stands Hopoate and leading figures from pacific island nations believe there isn't enough incentive for players of pacific island heritage to pledge their allegiance to their countries of origin.

Former New Zealand star David Solomona, who is now representing Samoa, said the game would grow if players can be convinced to commit to their countries of heritage rather than the more "glamorous" option of Australia and New Zealand.

"If you have a look at the Toyota Cup I think 40 per cent of the kids playing are Polynesian," Solomona said.

"But it's playing Test matches, that's what counts.

"If the international board aren't going to give Samoa and Tonga international games, it's obvious where the kids are going to go to."

Solomona said he supported Hopoate's idea.

"I can't understand why not," he said.

"It's for the betterment of everyone. Samoa playing Tonga all the time - it's something we need to get going."

Samoan figurehead Nigel Vagana also saw merit in Hopoate's `Origin' theory, provided it fits in with representative schedules.

Tongan captain Feleti Mateo is desperate for more matches, but says part of the problem is the international game's strict rules on eligibility.

Mateo is in an increasingly common position, where he is on the cusp of State of Origin selection and also passionate about developing the international game.

However rules state he must choose either Tonga or NSW.

"There's a very grey area, it needs to be sorted," said Mateo, who wants rules altered to reflect the changing Polynesian demographic of the game.

"People want to see the best players play, and if you're good enough to play Origin but you can't make Australia, I can't see why you can't go out and play for Tonga. It'll make it more competitive."

- AAP

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 18 Apr 2014 07:33:11 Processing Time: 605ms