Tongan rugby battle – Union v League

Tongans love their physical sports and there is none more popular than rugby, be it the 15 man or 13 man game.

Rugby union has traditionally been the number one sport of the nation but the recent achievements of the Tongan league team may have shifted that opinion.

According to some, the biggest factor in this change is due to the impact of the eligibility rules in both codes.

In rugby league, a player can represent Australia or New Zealand for one year and can represent Tonga the next, whereas for rugby union a person can only make the switch after a stand down period of three years.

This has allowed Tonga rugby league to have easier access to quality and world class players.

Ikale Tahi Tonga Players share a light moment after training. Tongans love their physical sports and there is none more popular than rugby, be it the 15 man or 13 man game. PIC – Tonga Rugby Union

Just this week, the International Rugby League rankings have placed Tonga as the number two team globally ahead of world champions Australia and England.

Tonga Rugby Union refutes the claim that league is more popular.

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Chief executive officer Peter Harding said Tongan youths play both codes, but it was their availability for national duties that had always been the issue.

Members of the Tonga Rugby League Team taking a stroll. PIC – Tonga Rugby League

“That has always been the case for rugby in Tonga, but I would say rugby union is still the national sport, but the crucial factor in terms of the difference of performance would be our accessibility to quality players,” Harding said.

Tonga Ministry of Internal Affairs head of sports Onetoto Anisi said the government’s plan is to ensure that both rugby codes get the same amount of support.

Andrew Fifita leads the Tongan Sipi Tau. PIC – Tonga Rugby League

“In terms of crowd support in games yes rugby league has more support than our rugby union team at the moment, as witnessed on television, this is because their performance in the previous test matches against top teams has been great,” Anisi said.

Tonga is one of the greatest contributors of rugby talents to the world in both codes.

For rugby union alone here is a list of Tongans playing in top tier one countries.

Mako Vunipola (England), Tolu Latu (Australia), Karl Tuinukuafe (New Zealand), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England), Richie Mo’unga (New Zealand), and Shannon Frizel (New Zealand).

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