Humble, emotional, but also real.

They were some of the words people used to describe a photo that provided a poignant look inside island life and the people motivating the darlings of the Rugby League World Cup, Mate Ma'a Tonga.

Speaking to the Herald, photographer Isi Fatani described the heartfelt story behind the image that has captured many.

The 49-year-old visited one of the country's outer islands, Ha'afeva, on the same day the Tongans were due to take on the Kiwis.

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About 300 people live on the island and it takes about two-and-a-half hours to get there by ferry.

"We went there for a church conference and then on Saturday, we were looking for a TV to watch the game.

"We walked about 600 metres to find a TV and the whole village was there.''

A family happened to have two television sets. Inside the house, made of corrugated iron, mostly men watched the bigger screen that had been placed in the middle of the room so those outside could also see.

A smaller TV was set up on the other side of the house for women and children sitting on the grass. A young boy in a red T-shirt can be seen behind an elderly man sitting in a wheelchair.

"It was the greatest experience of my life. I stay in the big island and you can watch TVs at all houses - and they're very big TVs.

"But on the island, there was only a couple of TVs. When Tonga got a try, they almost broke down the house."

In Ha'afeva, the electricity is put on from 6pm to 9pm. On Saturday, it was turned on just before the match and turned off again after it.

Former Tongan rugby captain Isi Fatani captured the poignant images while visiting one of Tonga's outer islands, Ha'afeva. Photo / Isi Fatani
Former Tongan rugby captain Isi Fatani captured the poignant images while visiting one of Tonga's outer islands, Ha'afeva. Photo / Isi Fatani

Fatani said as their team got closer and closer to the win, the fans went ballistic.

"Man, everybody - from the kids to the old ones - they were all screaming.

"You know the roofing is tin and also the house? They hit it. When the game finished, the walls and some of the roof is going down,'' he laughed.

"I was crying when I watched the game. Even the older people - more than 90 years old - they walk on the street and call: 'Mate Ma'a Tonga'!''

Fatani, who is a former captain of the Tonga rugby union side, 'Ikale Tahi, said he knew the moment was special and decided to take a few photos.

He later posted them to Facebook and the response was instant - with hundreds of people sharing it and commenting that it had brought them to tears.

"Some of the players, they wrote to me and said: 'Thank you for putting up this very humble picture.' It reminds them to make their lives humble and makes them hungry for the game.

"Mate Ma'a Tonga has brought all the Tongan people very closely together - one heart and one body.

"It should remind the people overseas to look at that photo and remember when they grew up here in Tonga. Humble."

Former Tongan rugby captain Isi Fatani captured the poignant images while visiting one of Tonga's outer islands, Ha'afeva. Photo / Isi Fatani
Former Tongan rugby captain Isi Fatani captured the poignant images while visiting one of Tonga's outer islands, Ha'afeva. Photo / Isi Fatani