COMMENT

It's not often that rugby league manages to upstage union in this part of the world, but you could argue that it happened in a small – but important – way today.

While rugby fumbles, the Tongan-inspired Pacific league revolution rumbles on.

The confirmation of the Oceania Cup, which will create meaningful international competition for Tonga, Samoa and Fiji in 2019, was the most important factor in a number of schedule-related announcements in Auckland on Tuesday.

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It was also heartening to see the return of the Great Britain League Lions to these shores, and important that Wayne Bennett's team will play an international in Port Moresby on the way back to the northern hemisphere.

And the Kiwis playing four tests in a non-World Cup year – including three at home – is also very special.

But nothing beats the news for the Island nations. For probably the first time, they will be put on an even keel. Same level of hotels, same deals with flights, same training facilities, similar match payments.

It feels like the penny has dropped for International league's administrators, who see the huge growth potential of the sport in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Imagine this scenario for a start; in 2019, Mate Ma'a Tonga will play all three of the top nations in the league world.

Jason Taumalolo of Tonga performs the Sipi Tau against the Kiwis during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Photo / Getty
Jason Taumalolo of Tonga performs the Sipi Tau against the Kiwis during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. Photo / Getty

There are some genuine foundations in place, rather than the haphazard arrangements of just a few years ago.

To be fair, rugby has a much more complex calendar and is operating on a significantly grander scale internationally than league.

But the controversial World League plans, with the Island nations left out in the cold and the strong reaction that it has garnered since they were revealed by the Herald last Friday, evoked an inevitable contrast yesterday.

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One sport is rolling out the red carpet, the other is saying 'Thanks for all you have contributed…but we'll get back to you'.

Anyway, it's vital for the 13-man code.

The always shaky foundations of international league could be solidified by the additional of two or three world class teams.

Who's to say it couldn't happen?

There's certainly no shortage of players, as somewhere close to 40 per cent of players in the NRL are of Polynesian heritage.

Fans at Mt Smart stadium during Tonga's clash against Australia in October last year. Photo / Photosport
Fans at Mt Smart stadium during Tonga's clash against Australia in October last year. Photo / Photosport

But, as an example, the sport is also growing rapidly in Tonga. From a small base, the number of senior club teams has increased by almost 300 per cent in the last two years.

So if the player base is there, add in a defined calendar and better administration and the only way is up.

Papua New Guinea will also continue to improve, with a team at State League level in Australia.

Samoa, and to a lesser extent Fiji, have unlimited potential.

Today was also a big day for the NZRL.

After the sport hit rock bottom here with the disastrous 2017 World Cup campaign, it was hard to see a way back.

The pride in the Kiwis jersey had taken a hit, fans had deserted the team and sponsors weren't exactly lining up.

But after a painful but brutally frank review, with new leadership and a new coach, the game is heading in the right direction.

They'll be a sellout test at Mt Smart in June versus Tonga, while the triple header at Eden Park will also break new ground for international league in this country.