England will host Tonga in a three-Test series this Autumn – the first ever international series between the two nations and the first time they have met since 2017’s memorable Rugby League World Cup Semi-final in Auckland.
Tonga last played England in this country in the 2006 Federation Shield Final – won by 32-14 by England – and the two did not meet again until the November 2017 when the Polynesians, trailing 20-0 with only seven minutes remaining, came within a whisker of overturning the deficit and denying England a final place at the death, eventually losing 20-18.
The matches are set to take place at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium on Sunday 22 October, Huddersfield Giants’ John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday 28 October and lastly Leeds Rhinos’ Headingley Stadium on Saturday 4 November.
There has been plenty of push back against these venues as you can read about here. However, these three stadiums make complete sense.
St Helens have really strong links with Tonga through their former coach Kristian Woolf. He led Saints to three Super League trophies in a row completing their four in a row success last year and becoming Super League’s second most successful coach.
When he took over at St Helens he was already Tonga Head Coach. In the current St Helens squad Tongan internationals Konrad Hurrell, Will Hopoate and Agnatius Paasi ply their trade.
St Helens was also Tonga’s World Cup base and therefore it makes sense to start the series there.
Meanwhile, Huddersfield Giants’ John Smith’s Stadium is obviously one of the most central for most rugby league fans and Serious About Rugby League understands that the RFL hope to get extra capacity provided aiming for at least 25K.
Lastly, Headingley is a traditional international venue. Serious About Rugby League also understands that Leeds and St Helens could be being awarded for their investment in their facilities.
There was also going to be a bit of negativity about not taking a game to London, but the issue was always going to be cost. The sport can’t afford to lose money and needs the series to make money not just for England but also to reward Tonga for coming.