Newcastle Knights assistant coach and Tongan head coach Kristian Woolf expects the star power of forward Jason Taumalolo and five-eighth Ata Hingano to return for their grudge match against the Kiwis in June.
In their first match of the Oceania Cup, Mate Ma'a Tonga will go head to head with New Zealand at Smart Stadium in a highly anticipated re-match.
Woolf is banking on having both players available for selection.
“Jason is a six to ten-week injury and knowing Jason well, he tends to heal really well,” said Woolf.
“I’d be surprised if he’s not playing NRL well before the June test and he gets some games under his belt so he can be fit, healthy and ready to perform.
“Ata has started the year and played his first 80-minute game against our reserve grade (Knights) a couple of weeks ago.
“By all reports he played really well.
“Knowing Ata, he has a terrific work ethic and really strives to get the best out of himself, so I think he’ll be fit and firing by the time we play in June.”
Meanwhile Tevita Pangai jnr will have to make an important decision.
Origin or Tonga?
The first match in June against the Kiwis will clash with State of Origin duties if he’s selected.
Woolf admits he’s spoken to Pangai and the decision lies in his hands.
“He has to make a decision because there is a clash,” said Woolf.
“One thing he has made really clear is that his future lies with Tonga beyond any State of Origin games.
The story behind Barnett's ink.
“It’s whether he’s going to play for us against the Kiwis in June or whether he plays in the State of Origin game.”
If Pangai does choose State of Origin, he can still play for Tonga later in the year.
“He is eligible for Tonga even if he plays for NSW,” Woolf said.
“I don’t for one minute, doubt his commitment to Tonga.
“He is extremely rock solid and whatever he does in the mid-year, I expect to see him back in the red at the end of the year.”