Assessing the Tongan threat that Shaun Wane’s England face

Shaun Wane’s England will play Tonga in an historic three-Test series that starts in St Helens on October 22, before going over to Huddersfield and Leeds in consecutive weeks.

Tonga are the first Pacific Island nation to play a Test series against England and there boast some world class players that will show off their skills against England.

Most of the players picked by Kristian Woolf, former St Helens Grand Final winning coach, play in the NRL but there are three players who have spent this season with Super League clubs and have a chance to impress for their nation in the country they currently call home.

Will Hopoate can potentially play his final game at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium after two years playing for the current World Champions and with his creative play across the back line, England need to deal with how to follow him across.

Another Saints star is Konrad Hurrell who has been a brilliant addition to Super League since he joined Leeds in 2019 and he brings a different style of play that is under appreciated in the game, running like a prop at centre.

The 32-year-old scored six tries in 18 appearances and made an average gain of nearly nine metres per carry. He’ll bring a physical side of the game that a team like Tonga can use to their advantage.

Huddersfield is the second venue that both sides will visit, and Tui Lolohea will be playing at a stadium he has played at all season. Lolohea carried the ball in nearly 500 times and averaged five metres per carry. He also made 119 kicks and 79 of them being in an attacking nature. That creative style mixed with the way he can bust through tackles as a standoff will give England problems.

Whilst that’s the Super League players out of the way, now it is time to focus on the NRL players that have been chosen to bring the shield back to the Pacific Islands.

Daniel Tupou is a brilliant star for Syndey Roosters and with over 140 tries in 241 appearances, He will give either Tom Johnstone  or Tommy Makinson some problems in the first test. He has already made nine appearances for Tonga scoring an impressive eight tries in his time playing for Mate Ma’a.

Addin Fonua-Blake was a star player in the NRL this season, with nine tries, 73 tackle breaks over 14 hit ups and 1670 post contact metres, he will be a main threat the England will need to stop dead in his tracks before he can get Tonga in a good position to attack.

A player that has massively impressed this year is Will Penisini. The centre scored eight tries for Parramatta Eels, made eight assists, ran for over 3000 metres and has a tackle efficiency of over 85%. With those stats he will be a problem for England on the edge opposite Hopoate.

Tyson Frizell will represent his third nation of his career, having already played games for Wales and Australia in his 12-year career. Frizell ended the 2023 season with nearly 700 tackles and 96% tackle efficiency, he will be hard to get past through the middle of the pack.

Latu Fainu is one of the most talented and exciting young five-eighths in the NRL and seemingly is destined for a bright future in the NRL. Fainu signed a four-year deal with Manly not long after his 16th birthday so he has plenty of time to show his skills. He made an appearance for NSW under 19s and got an assist and over 70 metres kicking in that contest. He may not feature prominently but you will need to get to know this kid.

This Test will be the start of a resurgence in International Rugby, if this current focus carries on beyond this autumn. The Pacific Championship and this series running concurrently will bring eyes onto International Rugby League like there has never been in a non-World Cup year.

Tonga are certainly a team to be feared and this will not be an easy three games for England unlike the last few friendlies they have had. No matter how these three games go, The winner will definitely be Rugby League.

Tonga Squad
Latu Fainu (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Addin Fonua-Blake (New Zealand Warriors)
Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast Titans)
Tyson Frizell (Newcastle Knights)
Siliva Havili (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
William Hopoate (St Helens)
Konrad Hurrell (St Helens)
Eliesa Katoa (Melbourne Storm)
Isaiya Katoa (Dolphins)
Felise Kaufusi (Dolphins)
Keaon Koloamatangi (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Toluta’u Koula (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Tuimoala Lolohea (Huddersfield Giants)
Haumole Olakau’atu (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Will Penisini (Parramatta Eels)
Hame Sele (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Moses Suli (St. George Illawarra Dragons)
Tevita Tatola (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Dion Teaupa (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Starford To’a (Wests Tigers)
Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
Siua Wong (Sydney Roosters)