By Peter Jessup
The last thing the Tongan rugby league side have in their sights for their match against New Zealand at Carlaw Park on Friday night is taking the Kiwis' heads off.
Tongan coach Murray Hurst, who worked beside Mark Graham at the North Queensland Cowboys and remains there, said yesterday that he had talked to the Tongans about that.
"No way," Hurst said when asked if Kiwi players would be targets of the sort of rough stuff dished out by Tonga in the Rugby World Cup. "I've never condoned that and certainly never will."
The last thing his players wanted to do was give away ground through penalties.
"Coming from an NRL club, I can understand their point of view, but from [Kiwi coach Frank Endacott's], it's an ideal build-up - it'll keep them nicely in tune."
The Tongans were excited about the thought of playing people they looked up to, Hurst said. They knew they were in danger of a mauling but were willing to test themselves as some might never get an opportunity against such class players again.
"This is the best Kiwi team I've seen," Hurst said. "I thought they'd beat Australia by more."
He had picked his side with a view to next November's World Cup, and described his squad as "more notable for the ones that aren't there."
He has 11 players from Tonga who were part of the island nation's three-test-winning tourists to the Cook Islands, seven from New Zealand and Australian clubs, including some NRL reserve-graders, and three from Britain.
Among the Pacific Islands-based players, Hurst nominated lock Sione Masima and wing/centre Tevita Pole'o as two to watch. He has former Marist player Greg Wolfgramm, who played in the Riverina competition last season, also at centre.
Andrew Lomu (no relation to Jonah) and Nelson Lomi, both aged 21, were with Sydney City's first-division team last season, and Philimone Lolohea, aged 20, was a Warriors colt and is now with Souths.
From Mangere East is Esau Mann and from Britain are Bradford back Tevita Vaikona, prop Lee Hansen, who moved from Wigan to Widnes recently, and Phil Howlett, older brother of Auckland rugby wing Doug Howlett, who was at Souths and moved to Bradford last year.
"I'm relying on the pros to show the way. The boys from Tonga have no idea how quick it's going to be," Hurst said.
There are hopes that some of the other eligible NRL players who want to be part of next year's Cup squad will turn up at Carlaw on Friday as supporters.
Among those are Parramatta's Jim Dymock, John Hopoate from Manly, Solomon Haumono at the Wests Tigers, Dragon Andrew Tangata Toa and Warrior Awen Guttenbeil.
Television commentator and 1995 Tongan World Cup captain Duane Mann is also considering making himself available for next year's event at the age of 35.
Hurst said the game was particularly important to the Tongans since it was their only confirmed international encounter ahead of the Cup, though one-off matches against other island nations were likely.
The Kiwis ran at Carlaw yesterday and will train at Ericsson Stadium at 10am today and tomorrow. Tomorrow afternoon they will visit the Middlemore Hospital children's wards which the Friday game is a fundraiser for.
The team will throw their match bonuses into the hat for the children's cause for Middlemore and Viola Hospital in Tonga, and told organisers they would also like to make a donation. All proceeds from gate sales go to the hospitals.
The match will be broadcast live on Sky as build-up to the Great Britain-Australia match in Brisbane.
Both games are big occasions for Kiwi referees. Dave Pakieto will control his first major international when Australia play Great Britain and Andy Cook gets his first test, at Carlaw Park.
Tickets for the Kiwis' next match, against Great Britain at Ericsson Stadium on October 29 are in hot demand, with more than 4000 sold in the last two days.