A World Cup re-match between the Kiwis and Tonga will go ahead in New Zealand next year, with the controversial Denver test all but dead and buried.
The New Zealand Rugby League and NRL confirmed today that Mate Ma'a will play Australia at Mt Smart Stadium on October 20, while the Kiwis will host the Pacific Island side next June with the venue and date still to be confirmed.
The Kangaroos-Tonga test will be played a week after the Kiwis also host Australia at Mt Smart in the end of year trans-Tasman fixture on October 13.
Next year's Kiwis-Tonga match will replace the Denver test between the Kiwis and England during the midseason stand-alone representative weekend.
The Denver test was booked in for another two years but NZRL CEO Greg Peters confirmed the Kiwis would not be returning to the US next year and said it was unlikely the 2020 fixture would go ahead.
The NZRL have received less than half of their agreed payment from Denver test promoter Jason Moore and are understood to be owed a six-figure sum but face a battle through the US legal system to recoup the outstanding amount.
"We're not going to Denver in 2019, I can assure you of that," said Peters.
"We've tried to engage with him without success. We've reserved all of our rights under the contract and have contractual remedies for breach.
"It's a US entity that we're contracted with so we need to consider our options given some of those challenges."
The NRL have agreed to fund the Tonga-Australia match and also have a commercial arrangement with the cash-strapped NZRL to support the Kiwis-Tonga fixture.
The NZRL are yet to decide where to stage next year's Kiwis-Tonga game, but Auckland or Hamilton appear the most likely venues, given the proximity to South Auckland's large Pacific communities and the success of last year's World Cup matches at Waikato Stadium.
"We need to work with our Tongan counterparts as well about commercialising the opportunity that's in front of us," said Peters.
"There are a number of possibilities in New Zealand that might want to come forward and assist us with that commercial proposition."
Confirmation of both matches involving Tonga on these shores follows a dramatic U-turn from the NZRL, who under their previous administration committed themselves to the Denver experiment despite the obvious demand and interest in staging another Kiwis-Tonga test locally.
The lure of a large cash-injection from the Denver test and plans to promote the 13-man game in the US ahead of the 2025 World Cup – which was also set to be bankrolled by Moore - were given as reasons for the Kiwis involvement.
That was before Moore left both the NZRL and RFL in the lurch financially and grave doubts now also hang over his ability to fund the next World Cup.
"The strategy of going to Denver was valid at the time," said Peters.
"The disappointing fact is that we weren't paid and it doesn't appear that we are going to get paid.
"Is this the game, Kiwis-Tonga, that everyone wants to see? Absolutely, and now we're delivering it."
The NZRL initially held reservations about allowing Australia to play Tonga in Auckland, fearing it could impact upon ticket sales for the Kiwis-Kangaroos match. They were happy for the match to proceed once they were able to lock in a Kiwis-Tonga test as well.
"Part of the decision around Australia playing Tonga here in Auckland was that the Kiwis had to play Tonga in the next period and that's what we've been able to secure in this.
"We're looking forward now and this is a feast of rugby league in the market in New Zealand for the first time and that's what we should be excited about."
Meanwhile, Australian players have reportedly agreed to be paid less than their normal $20,000 match fee in order for the match to be financially viable.
The Kangaroos are expected to receive $5000 or less while a portion of the money they have sacrificed will go towards match payments for the Tongan players.
Kiwis players received $5000 each for the Denver test, a cost the NZRL had to cover after Moore Sports failed to pay the agreed fee by the July 31 deadline.