Tongan rugby league is returning to Auckland in 2018, with the Auckland Rugby League announcing two Queen's Birthday Weekend representative clashes.

Auckland will host the Tonga New Zealand Residents in the feature match on Saturday, June 2, with a sea of red set to converge on Mount Smart Stadium following on from Mate Ma'a Tonga's success at the recent Rugby League World Cup.

It's not quite the game that many league fans would be hoping for - a rematch between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga - following their epic clash in Hamilton last year.

But it's a good intiative, which will add another layer to Pacific league.


That's particularly important, as the growth of Tonga and Samoa (along with Fiji and the Cook Islands) is vital for the future of the international game.

There will also be some recognisable names on show. Former Kiwi, Wigan and Warriors' second rower Epalahame Lauaki is likely to be part of the Tongan set up, while ex-Warriors and Sharks hooker Tevita Latu, who also played one test for the Kiwis, is also expected to pull on the Tongan jersey.

It something that could become an annual intitative, and with the right support could only get bigger.

"It's massive for us," said Tongan manager Hengi Fusitu'a. "It's not the top tier but it is massive for us in terms of keeping the boys together and building for the future. For me, this is one of the first steps towards Tonga winning a World Cup one day. It's a quality game for us and we hope it becomes a regular fixture."

In the curtain-raiser the Auckland Maori U20 will face Samoa U20, with both games to be streamed live via the ARL website.

ARL general manager Greg Whaiapu said aside from putting the Auckland jersey back at the forefront of the New Zealand league scene, it was a chance to provide players with a meaningful representative game.

"It's exciting to be able to give players from across the region the opportunity to represent Auckland once again, and to celebrate the proud history associated with the blue jersey," Whaiapu said.

"It's important we continue to give local players the chance to achieve higher honours here at home.

"The Auckland Rugby League also has a responsibility, as a leader of the grassroots game, to help foster growth in that area, so we are delighted to be able to involve Tonga, Samoa and the Auckland Maori in this event as well."

The Auckland premier representative team last took the field in 2016 against the New Zealand Maori Residents, and last year the ARL celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the 1977 Auckland side which famously beat Australia, Great Britain and France in the space of three weeks.