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Tonga recruits league’s best coach

Australian rugby league coaching legend Wayne Bennett will be guiding Mate Ma’a Tonga coaching staff for the upcoming Test against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25.

The Tongans who have proved themselves as real rugby league powerhouses over the years will have Bennett acting as a coaching advisor to Dean Young, who will deputise for Tonga mentor Kristian Woolf.

Woolf who has coached the Tongans to famous victories over the Kangaroos and the British, will be unable to travel to Auckland for the Test due to his commitments with St Helens in the Super League, and as such Young will take charge for the one-off Test.

This is a warning sign for the Kiwis. The Tongans already boast big names but with Bennett providing his expertise the young Tongans are going to be dangerous.

Although without their Super League boys, the Tongans will be full of eager players wanting to claim a spot in the World Cup squad.

Young has helped North Queensland coach Todd Payten turn around the fortunes of the Cowboys this season. He was a member of Woolf’s coaching staff in 2019 when Tonga beat the Kangaroos at Eden Park.

He played under Bennett in St George Illawarra’s 2011 grand final winning team and has a close relationship with the seven times premiership mentor, who helped plot New Zealand’s 2008 World Cup triumph and has also coached Australia and England.

Australian rugby league coaching legend Wayne Bennett will be guiding Mate Ma’a Tonga coaching staff for the upcoming Test against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25. Picture: IRL Twitter

Former Mate Ma’a Tonga captain Sika Manu will also be on the coaching staff.

Woolf, who has won the past two Super League grand finals with St Helens, will remain as head coach for the World Cup that will kick off in England in October.

Woolf was been in charge of the Mate Ma’a Tonga since their giant-killing 2017 World Cup campaign, in which the Pacific nation suffered a controversial semi-final defeat against Bennett’s England team.

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Woolf will be involved in the team selection process and will consult closely with the staff that will deputise for him in the June 25 match against the Kiwis.

“My commitment to St Helens and the inability of the representative and international weeks to line up in the two hemispheres means it is not possible to be in New Zealand for a week during the Super League season,” Woolf told NRL.com.

“But we have been able to put together an amazing coaching staff with Dean, Wayne and Sika.

Tongan coaching staff Kristian Woolf, Dean Young, Wayne Bennett and Sika Manu. Picture – Tonga Rugby League

“Dean has been an assistant on the Tongan team previously, and is one of the brightest young coaching prospects in the NRL.

“Sika was the captain of this team through a golden period, and understands the passion of the Mate Ma’a Tonga.

“And no-one has had more success in coaching rugby league than Wayne Bennett – having him there will be a great experience for both the players and the staff.

“This is a strong coaching staff for what will ultimately be a new-look Tongan team missing some players from the English Super League, who will be playing an important international Test while competing for spots in the World Cup squad.”

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