The International Rugby League has upped its support for star NRL players like Vaai (Jason) Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita in their dispute with the Tongan board.

It now appears that the so-called rebel Tongan team will operate as the official test side on a permanent basis.

The IRL has this week expelled the Tonga National Rugby League – which was suspended last October - from membership. The TNRL has a week to appeal.

Tonga have become the darlings of test league, their success partially rejuvenating the international game.

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But the highly influential Taumalolo and Fifita threatened a revolt after Tonga sacked coach Kristian Woolf last year and appointed a new coaching team of Frank Endacott and Garth Brennan.

The players threatened to boycott the World Cup Nines and late season tests. Ultimately, they got to play under the banner of an Invitational XIII coached by Woolf, recording famous wins over Australia and Great Britain.

The IRL recognised the Invitational team as an official test side, despite the protests of TNRL leader George Koloamatangi.

The IRL stated: "The Tonga Invitational XIII is being treated exactly the same as the Tonga national team in an attempt to maintain continuity for players, fans and opponents during the period of suspension of the national governing body."

The IRL released a statement this week saying: "At its board meeting on 13 February, the directors carefully considered the position of Tonga National Rugby League, which has been suspended since October 2019, in the light of a wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders in the Tongan game.

"After that meeting, the board wrote to TNRL, advising them of the resolution passed at that meeting, which is to expel TNRL from the membership.

"There is a process within the IRL constitution for dealing with membership issues, which IRL is following. TNRL has one week to appeal the board's decision."