The opportunity to play for Mate Ma'a Tonga against the Kiwis at Mt Smart Stadium was one Tuimoala Lolohea wasn't sure he'd get.

The former Warriors and Wests Tigers utility joined the Leeds Rhinos this season, and with the English Super League not observing the representative week, the 24-year-old could only hope.

But with fellow incumbent half Ata Hingano being unavailable due to injury, Tongan coach Kristian Woolf reached out to the Rhinos about getting their blessing for Lolohea to return to New Zealand for Saturday's test.

"Any chance I do get to play for Tonga, I'll stick my hand up straight away," Lolohea said. "It was a bit difficult in this situation. Obviously there's no English players playing in this weekend, but with Ata going down and being injured, there was really no other halves.


"It was a bit of a 50-50 (call). If I wasn't allowed then so be it, it'd just be one of those things that was just unlucky really. I've very fortunate and blessed to be a part of this camp this week.

"All I can do it reward the coaching staff for them paying for my flights – obviously it's more expensive than most of the boys. So I think all I can do is go out there on Saturday and play my best footy really."

The incumbent five-eighth for the Tongan side, Lolohea will shift into the No.7 jersey on Saturday with Hingano unavailable and will be joined by debutant John Asiata.

Breaking into the NRL in 2014 with the North Queensland Cowboys providing prop and lock cover off the interchange bench, Asiata has shown his talents in the halves for the injury-riddled club this year.

Having played in the No.6 jersey for the Tongan side in the past, Lolohea said the shift to halfback wouldn't have too much of an impact on the way he approached the test.

"Maybe just taking last play on myself and getting good kicks away is something Woolfy wants me to do a bit more. With Ata it's a bit easier because he's a left footer and on the left side of the field it's natural for him," Lolohea said.

"(John's) one of those middle forwards who are really skilful. It's good to have him aboard. It's his first test for Tonga and I'm pretty sure he's going to go out there and give it all."

Asiata will be one of a few new faces in the Tongan side that runs out onto Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night, with Manly Sea Eagles hooker Manase Fainu and Sydney Roosters forward Sitili Tupouniua set to make their international debuts off the interchange bench. Named as 18th man, Penrith Panthers rake Sione Katoa is also in line to debut should he be a late inclusion into the side.


"To debut for anyone is always special, in anything you do, but an international is even more special so I'm sure these boys a looking forward to getting out there and ripping in for us."

Mate Ma'a Tonga: Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Kotoni Staggs, Solomone Kata, David Fusitu'a, John Asiata, Tuimoala Lolohea, Andrew Fifita, Siliva Havili, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Tevita Pangai Jr, Manu Ma'u, Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: Manase Fainu, Addin Fonua-Blake, Peni Terepo, Sitili Tupouniua, Sione Katoa, Tevita (Junior) Tatola. (Two to be omitted).