“We want to prove ourselves against the best in the world”

Mid-year will be a busy time for Newcastle Knights assistant coach Kristian Woolf.

It’s not just his commitments to the red and blue but he’ll switch to all red as head coach of Mate Ma’a Tonga for the inaugural Oceania Cup which starts in June.

Previously in North Queensland and now in Newcastle, the logistics of the role have become a lot easier.

“It puts me in a better position to see how Tongan players are going and to catch up with them a bit more regularly being closer to Sydney,” Woolf admitted.

“I have been able to keep a close eye on things and I’m really happy with how all our players are tracking at the moment.”

The innovative new tournament will establish a regular, meaningful Pacific programme of fixtures.

It’s something Woolf has been calling for.

Last year he mentioned the difficulty of living game by game, never having a calendar which could allow the Tongan team to plan for the next 12 months.

The Oceania Cup, which sees Tonga in Pool A with tier one teams New Zealand and Australia, will now see Tonga play against rugby league power houses.

“It’s outstanding, it’s something we’ve been asking for, for a long time,” Woolf commented.

“To be able to look ahead to a schedule that’s set and has some really meaningful games and some big games for us as well.”

Their first game, a mouth-watering match-up against New Zealand on June 22nd.

Last time they met at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, Tonga beat the Kiwis 28-22.

So fair to say it’s one of the biggest rivalries in international rugby league and New Zealand will be wanting to take back their pride.

“It’s a terrific grudge match and one that both teams will really be up for,” he said.

“We want to prove ourselves against the best in the world.”

Tonga will also get to have another crack at England and Australia.

They play England in October as part of the Great Britain Lions tour.

And after their devastating controversial two-point loss against the poms at the World Cup, they’ll be keen to get one back.

“We handled it well at the World Cup and there’s a lot of emotion around that,” Woolf explained.

“What helps with that is really good players.

“We’ve got a really good group of players firstly and their experience allows them to handle those bit occasions.”

Tonga will play Australian in the Oceania Cup in November.