Havili confident Tonga on tier-one track
6 September, 2018, 4:03 pm
SYDNEY, 06 SEPTEMBER 2018 (SMH) – Tonga hooker Siliva Havili believes they’re on track to become a tier-one Test nation in the wake of confirmation they’ll play world champions Australia in Auckland next month.
The Canberra Raider will likely wear the Tonga No.9 against the Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium on October 20 – a week after Australia plays New Zealand at the same venue.
It signals a shift in the Pacific Island’s standing in world rugby league after they stormed to prominence in the World Cup last year.
Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita’s high-profile defections from the Kiwis and Kangaroos respectively have Tonga knocking on the door of tier-one nations Australia, New Zealand and England.
Now the international game is trying to continue the momentum Tonga helped create.
Havili was unsure what it would take for Tonga to take the next step, but he felt they were definitely heading in the right direction.
He was also confident they could cause an Australian upset.
“I’m not too sure what you need to become a tier-one nation, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Havili said.
“If we can keep building this thing we’ve started, we laid a platform at the World Cup, but if we can keep it going, we can take these big, tier-one nations on … rugby league’s only heading in the right direction.”
Havili was excited at the prospect of representing his country in Auckland, which was “like a capital city of Tonga”.
The 25-year-old was born and raised in New Zealand’s biggest city.
“There’s a lot of Tongans there. Last year they drew a big crowd against England,” Havili said.
“Mt Smart, there’s a lot of Tongans there, it’s like another capital city of Tonga. It will be good for the people.
“I know some of the Aussie Tongans wouldn’t like it, but I know for our little nation and our culture, wherever the game is – whether it’s in New York or Hawaii – all the Tongans will turn out and make it a big event.”
The Kangaroos are reportedly interested in luring Brisbane second-rower Tevita Pangai Junior into the Australian fold after a boom NRL season with the Broncos.
He represented Tonga at the World Cup and opted to play for them instead of making himself available for the NSW Blues during this year’s State of Origin series.
The former Raiders junior has now caught the eye of Australian selectors in addition to Blues coach Brad Fittler.
But Havili was confident the powerful forward would stick with Tonga.
“It’s really hard for him. It would be funny if he did across to NSW or Australia, that’s totally up to him,” he said.
“The last I heard I’m pretty sure he’ll be playing for Tonga.”
Havili’s one of a number of Raiders players that continue training over the coming weeks to keep themselves in shape ahead of the end-of-season international fixtures.
Jordan Rapana and Joe Tapine (broken thumb) have been named in the Kiwis squad, while Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead and recruit John Bateman will likely feature for England.
Canberra lock Josh Papalii’s form over the second-half of the NRL season and during Origin will have him in the mix to represent the Kangaroos, while young gun Nick Cotric could be a bolter for the Australian squad.
The Raiders’ off-season has begun early after they finished 10th and missed the NRL finals for the second year in a row.
Havili said their inconsistency had been frustrating.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we need to improve on … we had our reviews and there was a sense of disappointment,” he said.
“We know what we’re capable of individually and just the inconsistencies of games we’ve played this year … it’s been frustrating knowing that we can be a threat to this competition, but we’re not giving it our best shot week-in, week-out.”