Jason Taumalolo believes Tonga has set a precedent for international league – and they can be the benchmark for other smaller nations to follow.
Tonga looked short of a gallop on Saturday night, lost halfback Ata Hingano to a shoulder injury and struggled with errors and discipline all match, but still proved more than competitive against the World Champions.
The final score of 34-16 was a reflection of Australia's superiority, particularly in the first half, but Tonga accquitted themselves well.
They also provided another wonderful league occasion in this country, just like the sold out matches in Hamilton and Auckland at last year's World Cup, with a stunning atmosphere at Mt Smart before, during and after the match.
It's something that league administrators just can't ignore, and should also inspire the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea in the international space.
"We are a stepping stone of what can happen in international rugby league in terms of being more proactive to get the ball rolling to get more games and obviously having players come back to represent Tonga," said Taumalolo.
"Other countries can take a bit from us. We were just fortumate we had people working behind the scenes to try and make the game happen.
"Now that has happened we have got a few more games. Hopefully international rugby league can grow from that, not just us but other small nations can get more games too. Our following has a lot to do with it but I guess rugby league would be better if other small nations could get more games too. It would develop the game of rugby league internationally."
Taumalolo arguably started the Tongan revolution last year – with his late switch from the Kiwis back to Tonga – which has been the catalyst for the rise of the Pacific team.
They have a confirmed clash with New Zealand next year, and are likely to have at least two more games at the end of next year.
"Obviously a Test against NZ will be another big occasion for us, now that we have got that locked in," said Taumalolo. " I am sure the boys will be looking forward to the next time we get in camp to enjoy each other's company and hopefully represent Tonga again."
"It is good for us and international rugby league. We always get the odd Australia-New Zealand games and England playing so I think it will be refreshing to see the boys playing next year and it is great for us in terms of getting more games."
Tonga was a shade off their best on Saturday night, especially in the first half, when their errors and indiscipline allowed a polished Australian outfit to build an insurmountable 30-10 lead.
But they showed impressive fight in the second half – where they completely dominated possession and territory – and Taumalolo was at the forefront, along with Tevita Pangai Junior and Sio Siua Taukeiaho of a rollicking forward effort all night
He bowled over Cowboys' team mate Jordan MacLean with one storming first half run, and showed the deterxity of a slips fielder at one point as he reeled in a Kangaroos grubber.
But overall Tonga were left wondering what might have been.
"The footy side of things was obviously a bit disappointing but the atmosphere was amazing and in general it was a great day for footy," said Taumalolo, who didn't emerge from the Tongan dressing sheds until close to midnight, as he spent time with teammates and caught up with well wishers. "It was amazing to see the turnout we had."
"We always knew Australia would be the bench mark but we had to find out the hard way where the tier one teams are compared to us. There is a bit of a gap there but I am sure the boys can fix that in the next few years."
Taumalolo now has some time off before pre-season starts again in Townsville, with a trip to Tonga planned for December, partly to see the progress of the burgeoning domestic competition, named the Jason Taumalolo Cup in his honour.
"I have got my own competition and I would like to go back and see how all the teams are going and see the development side of things there," said Taumalolo."With the NRL schedule and pre-season happening it is a bit of a touch schedule but I would like to go back and hopefully I can find some time in the Christmas break to go back and see how rugby league is developing in Tonga."