More tests, money needed to boost Pacific league teams

Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says more test matches and new income streams are needed to keep growing the international game.

The Mate Ma'a will take on Fiji in May's Pacific Test, which has been boosted by the inclusion of England and the Cook Islands.

Woolf was excited by the growth of the international weekend.

"It's great to see that it's expanding and really good to see the Cook Islands involved - they've certainly deserved that for a while I think," he said.

"They were really competitive at the last World Cup and they were really hard for us to beat not that long ago in a World Cup qualifier as well.

"It's great to see them involved and it's great to see England involved as well and I'm sure Samoa, with the way they've been going the last couple of years, will be really competitive there and that will be a good game of footy."

Tonga are in the same pool as Scotland, Samoa and New Zealand at the World Cup later in the year and are hoping to arrange a trial match before the tournament kicks off in October.

Kristian Woolf said the best way for all Pacific Island teams to keep improving is to play more internationals, which comes back to finances.

"They're probably the two biggest things. I was always a real pusher for the change in the [eligibility] rules - I thought that was a really important one for us," he said.

"That's a massive step forward by the International Rugby League [Federation] and I'm really glad they made that decision.

"It's certainly going to help in every way and it means that we can have higher-profile players and that certainly helps in terms of making us a little bit more financial, as a standalone team and nation and everything else as well.

"But to improve it further, more games, which relies on finances, is the way that we do keep progressing forward and that us, along with teams like Samoa, Fiji and PNG and Cook Islands, that's how we will become more competitive with the bigger nations as well."

Kristian Woolf said expenses around the Pacific Test weekend are paid for by the NRL and it remains a constant battle for the smaller nations to raise funds.

"We rely basically on small sponsorship from businesses that have been really loyal to us over the last couple of years. It's something that's really difficult and something that we do need to keep trying to improve and we've slowly chipped away at improving but it's certainly something that we still need a lot of help with," he said.

"We're in the process at the moment of trying to get some support and I guess some more substantial sponsorship and help there so we can do what we think we need to do

to make our preparations for the World Cup as professional as possible.

"And obviously the more we can do in that sense the more competitive we're going to be. It's a constant battle."


Photo: PHOTOSPORT  Tonga and the Cook Islands will both be involved in the 2017 Pacific Test weekend.