Salote Heleta Lilo is proud of her part of the world, and her place in it.

So when tickets went on sale for tonight's derby Rugby League World Cup pool match between her home country of Tonga and its South Pacific neighbours Samoa, the Auckland-based Tongan community leader was quick to snap up seats at Waikato Stadium.

This week - as violence between some rival Tongan and Samoan fans escalated to frightening levels in Auckland - she gave her tickets to tonight's match to family. She's heard of others doing the same.

"I'm afraid to go ... I'll definitely go to the Kiwis [versus Tonga] next week, but this one, I don't want to go, I don't feel very comfortable."


Police Superintendent Sandra Manderson, the national operations commander for major sporting events, has had a busy week of meetings related to the worsening situation and had also heard of frightened people giving away their match tickets.

"There are some people in this community who are very worried ... one woman said they were praying for the animosity between the two nations to end."

Tensions ignited on Monday after a photo of a young man burning the Samoan flag circulated on social media.

The next day footage appeared online of a street brawl in Otahuhu involving groups of Tongan and Samoan supporters, and police urged fans to be responsible following reports of disorder and Tongan fans riding on bonnets or hanging out windows of moving vehicles.

On Thursday night up to 200 people were involved in a clash between Tongan and Samoan league fans, featuring weapons including a machete, pole and sticks, in Otara. Six were arrested for disorderly behaviour and possession of offensive weapons.

The flare-ups between the two communities, who both have significant populations in our biggest city, has prompted tournament organisers, stadium bosses and police to renew a focus on making sure what happens before and after tonight's 7.30pm kick-off is both family-friendly and safe.

Cup New Zealand Operations general manager Andrea Nelson said the majority of ticket holders were families and church groups.

Safety was their top priority, she said.


"We encourage supporters to treat one another with respect and kindness."

Hamilton City Council's director of operations with responsibility for Waikato Stadium, Chad Hooker, said security for the event was appropriate to the size of the expected crowd.

"I understand police have reassessed their requirements for the event."

They had worked closely with the city's Tongan and Samoan leaders and, as well as a pre-match Pasifika festival outside the stadium, a combined church service will take place tomorrow.

He was not expecting problems at the city's first rugby league international, Hooker said.
"We think it's going to be a fantastic occasion."

But some of the behaviour in Auckland this week has police worried.

"Some of the behaviour so far has not indicated [fans] will be safe. Some of the behaviour has been inappropriate. It's just honestly not okay to block roads, it's not okay to ride out hanging out of a vehicle or on the bonnet ... we will not tolerate this sort of behaviour."

She would not say how many staff would be on duty, as that is against police policy, but an extra meeting with Cup, stadium and security company organisers took place this week.

She hoped the knowledge of what was being done to ensure safety would ease nerves.

"Come along and enjoy yourself, because it will be a positive environment."

Leaders from both nations' communities have this week called for calm, among them former Warriors player and Tongan wing Manu Vatuvei and Samoan-Kiwi boxing legend David Tua.

Lilo said she feared her community had provoked the week's events.

"I plead for my community to keep the peace. Samoans are our uso, our brothers and sisters."

Mangere MP Aupito William Sio told the Weekend Herald those causing problems weren't league fans.

"They are hooligans."

He is travelling to the match in a bus full of Samoans and Tongans, and was confident the event would be safe and fun.

Another leader in the Samoan community, former All Black Sir Michael Jones, said a small minority had let their pride get the better of them, and he wanted to celebrate the positive.

"Samoans and Tongans have a huge love and mutual respect for each other and I experience that every day in my community. We are sort of like twin brothers ... there's just so much more to celebrate than what's been happening the last few days."