Officials hoping for late boost as tickets still available for Kiwis-Tonga rematch

Tonga's run of playing in front sell-out crowds at Mt Smart Stadium could be coming to an end.

New Zealand Rugby League is expecting a crowd above 20,000 for Saturday's test between the Kiwis and Tonga, which is still way up on the 12,763 fans that turned up to watch New Zealand stun Australia at the Auckland venue last October. 

However, tickets for this weekend's clash - the first between the two nations since Tonga's historic upset at the 2017 World Cup - have not sold as fast as expected.

It's a change from Tonga's previous two games at Mt Smart, when a 'sea of red' flooded the stands.

The standard capacity at the home of the Warriors for a rugby league match is about 25,600. But that was increased two years ago as Tonga, on the back of their win over the Kiwis in Hamilton, and England set the stadium attendance record of 30,003 in the World Cup semifinal.

"I'd love a sell out. We may not quite get there but we'll see how the weather pans out for the rest of the week," NZRL chief executive Greg Peters told Stuff. 

"We're expecting a reasonable walk-up crowd as well. This is the match everyone's been waiting for and they've been telling us they want to see it, so get along and buy a ticket."

Tonga have enjoyed phenomenal support since the start of the 2017 World Cup, with their hymn-signing, flag-waving fans creating an atmosphere unlike any other in New Zealand.

They are still expected to outnumber Kiwi supporters this weekend, effectively creating a home game for Jason Taumalolo's side. But the fact that demand for tickets has not been as great as previous tests has surprised officials.

The Kiwis, of course, have a major part to play. And while coach Michael Maguire has made significant progress since taking charge last year, it perhaps shows they still have to work to do winning over the public after the dismal World Cup display.

The test has been billed as a chance for the Kiwis to avenge the loss of 2017 and the NZRL may have missed an opportunity to hold it last year, when that result was fresh in the minds of fans.

But Benji Marshall's return to the national side for the first time in seven years has also added to the occasion and Peters is hopeful a late boost in sales.

"There's plenty of cheap tickets available so we need them to rock out the door in the next few days. But I'm confident of a crowd north of 20,000."

Meanwhile, Peters has called for a change to the international eligibility rules in the wake of Martin Taupau's switch to Samoa last week.

Less than 24 hours after being named in the Kiwis' wider squad, Auckland-born Taupau withdrew, citing a desire to honour his Samoan heritage, and was followed by winger Jamayne Isaako on Sunday.

The current rules allow for players to change freely between tier one (Australia, England and New Zealand) and tier two nations, which has played an integral role in Tonga's emergence as a genuine test force.

But while Peters believes there should still be some flexibility for movement, he would like to see players required to commit to one country for a certain period.

"I don't think it respects the integrity of international football to have players being able to change at will, which is currently what the rules provide for," Peters said.

"We can't hold a player because we don't have long-term contracts, we can't stand in the way of a player's election when the rules provide for it. 

"That's why I think there should be a period of time where you have to elect your eligibility and it's locked for that period."

Regardless of any rule changes, Peters praised Maguire's communication with the New Zealand-qualified players and says it's up to the NZRL to create an environment within the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns that they want to be involved in.