Tonga is desperate to arrange a test against the Kiwis but a scheduling clash means it is unlikely to go ahead next season.
Tongan officials initially approached the New Zealand Rugby League following their recent World Cup semifinal loss to England, hoping to lock in a rematch of their sold-out blockbuster pool clash against the Kiwis for next year.
However, by that time, the NRL had already announced that Tonga was in line to play Samoa as part of next year's Pacific test triple header in Sydney during the stand-alone State of Origin weekend in June – without first checking with the second-tier Pacific island side.
Tonga are still to confirm their participation in that match and informed both the NRL and NZRL their preference was to play the Kiwis in New Zealand.
The NZRL advised Tonga to clarify their involvement in the Pacific test with the NRL, but Tonga were left confused when they learned New Zealand officials had approached Fiji to arrange a back-up fixture - with doubts hanging over a proposed test between the Kiwis and England in the US.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf is disappointed Tonga will miss the opportunity to build upon the success of the World Cup and establish an annual grudge match in New Zealand. He also believes his side deserve first crack at the Kiwis after it was announced last week that Tonga had climbed from 11th to fourth in the world rankings – to sit one spot above Fiji.
Tonga has been trying to contact the NZRL to discuss the matter but calls and messages have gone unanswered over the past fortnight.
"We've certainly done everything that we can to try and make a game between Tonga and New Zealand happen," said Woolf.
"For us it's a way forward for Tonga obviously but it's also a no-brainer in terms of the event that would create in New Zealand, off the back of the success of the World Cup and the crowds and everything that Tonga had that would be an exceptional event in New Zealand.
"We've done everything that we can in terms of contacting people to try and make that happen.
"Unfortunately we've been told by the NRL that New Zealand would prefer to play Fiji.
"I'm really unsure as to why that is. It certainly doesn't make sense to me but that's what we've been told by the NRL."
NZRL chief executive Alex Hayton insists they are keen to arrange more games with Tonga but says the Kiwis 2018 calendar is already full.
The Herald understands New Zealand will host a yet-to-be-announced rare home test against Australia at the end of next season, prior to playing a three-test series against England in the UK, leaving no room for a late season clash against Tonga.
"The Kiwis are full committed at the end of next season and the only option really is a game in the middle of the year," said Hayton.
"But the Pacific test series has already been announced with Tonga playing Samoa and so there are discussions going on as to how that may be addressed."
Despite the challenges around scheduling, it beggars belief that the cash-strapped NZRL would turn their back on the opportunity to stage another sell-out clash against Tonga – and instead prefer to play Fiji, who drew just over 14,000 to their quarter-final in Wellington.
Political reasons could be at play – not unusual in rugby league – although Hayton strongly denied that the NZRL may be keen to leave Tonga out in the cold in the hope that former Kiwis internationals Jason Taumalolo, Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma'u and David Fusitu'a may choose to realign themselves with New Zealand.
But any way you look at it, a Kiwis-Fiji fixture will not excite fans in the way a repeat showdown with Tonga would and it appears to be a missed chance for the NZRL to achieve some financial independence.
The NZRL have long relied on the NRL to pay Kiwis players but that hand-out is no longer available under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, making it more urgent for them to uncover and develop new revenue streams.
A one-off test against Tonga would be a good start and if it was a success they could look at growing it into a more lucrative three-test series. New Zealand has long wondered how they could replicate a State of Origin type series and the answer is staring them in the face.
"A Tonga-Kiwis game in New Zealand is 30,000 every day of the week," said Woolf.
"I've said before, one thing I do know is that Tonga would support it 100 per cent and we'd get a full house of Tongans there that's for sure.
"So for me, it's a funny one, I don't understand it but that's the way it is unfortunately."
There is scope - if the NZRL possessed the ambition and initiative - for them to make a push to take Pacific test away from the NRL and drive the concept themselves.
The financial burden would then be on the NZRL but the spoils would be theirs to enjoy as well.
Even if the Kiwis do end up playing Fiji, Woolf explained Tonga would leap at the chance to play Samoa in New Zealand.
"We genuinely want to try and make games happen in New Zealand involving Tonga. If we can't get them with New Zealand then we'd certainly like to get Samoa or someone else that we know that the public want to watch us play against over there.
"The reception we received in New Zealand, the Tongan people that turned up to support us, we want nothing more than to get back there to play games in front of them again."
Furthermore, government support could help ease matters, with the likes of Hamilton City Council willing to commit cash to secure future games – as they did as part of the tender process that saw them allocated two World Cup matches.
"Absolutely and we're happy to have those conversations," said Hamilton Councils major events director Chad Hooker.
"Whether it's New Zealand Rugby League, and we do have a good relationship with them and I know they're working on some opportunities down the track - it's just a case of when that comes to be.
"We'd love to see international rugby league back in Hamilton and we're certainly keen to see more games.
"What we managed to deliver around the Rugby League World Cup shows that there is an appetite for games and certainly those Tongan fans were fantastic so we'd be more than happy to see them back again."