Tonga’s future on the ropes as players threaten boycott
JASON Taumalolo is leading a player rebellion against the Tongan Rugby League after its new interim board sensationally sacked the entire coaching staff in a bitter power play.
A "heartbroken" Taumalolo described it as a "sad day in Tongan rugby league" after declaring he and the entire Tongan squad would refuse to play for their beloved island nation again until the controversial board is thrown out.
So dire is the situation in the eyes of the players, a desperate Andrew Fifita met with the Prime Minister of Tonga last week to explain why Mate Ma'a Tonga's presence on the world stage is in turmoil and why the players are united in boycotting the upcoming World Cup 9s and Tests against Great Britain and Australia.
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"We are struggling," Taumalolo said.
"I've spoken to a few of the boys in the leadership group and we have made it clear that we won't be participating in the end of year Tests if the interim board is still there. We won't be playing.
"It's heartbreaking. All these boys have made huge sacrifices to leave tier one nations who make a lot more money than what we do. All for it to be thrown away by decisions a few members of the board have made that we don't understand.
"The sooner we can have this AGM in Tonga, the sooner we can fix some of the damage made by some of these guys."
Players have demanded interim Tonga National Rugby League board to hold an election and are seeking the removal of chairman George Kolomatangi and secretary William Edwards.
Aside from the players disgust in the coaching staff clean-out is a further claim that the use of up to $50,000 in 2017 World Cup player payments, which the Tongan playing group wanted poured back into grassroots, has never been disclosed by Kolomatangi and Edwards.
Taumalolo has confirmed the entire Tongan side is united against the recently appointed interim board, and has demanded head coach Kristian Woolf and his staff be reinstated.
"Even though this has been going on for months, this has come as a big shock," Taumalolo said of the sackings of Woolf, his assistants David Tangata-Toa and Anthony Griffin, trainer Ron Palmer, strength and conditioning coach Lee Hopkins, culture leader John Hopoate and team manager Scott Clark, who were all terminated via a terse email on Thursday.
"They are doing a lot of damage, getting rid of the best coach Tonga's ever had. (Woolf's) done so much for us.
"I 100 per cent want them to be reinstated, and I want people in charge at board level who want to support Tongan rugby league and see there is a future in rugby league in the country, not only as players but as a board and a nation itself.
"We really want this AGM to go through."
The situation is considered so dire that on a recent trip to Tonga, Andrew Fifita felt compelled to communicate the unrest with the Prime Minister of Tonga.
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Fifita was reluctant to divulge any details of meeting with the Tongan PM ahead of Cronulla's must-win game with the Wests Tigers on Sunday but called for supporters to back the players.
"I don't want to bring anything up at the moment - it's a very touchy subject,'' Fifita said.
"There is some controversial things going on at the moment with Tonga and our playing group.''
Tonga emerged as a genuine threat to established powerhouses at the 2017 World Cup when, led by representative stars who had switched allegiances, it came within a game of making it to the final.
North Queensland wrecking ball Taumalolo shocked the footy world when he pledged his loyalty to Tonga before the tournament, turning his back on New Zealand, who he had already played 10 Test matches for.
Fifita did the same, snubbing the Kangaroos to play for Tonga and honour his father's heritage.
The issue has been simmering for at least six weeks, with Jim Dymock, Tim Sheens and Trent Barrett also approached to replace Woolf.