15 Oct 2015

Sport: Experience a boost for Tongan league team

12:11 pm on 15 October 2015

Tonga rugby league coach Kristian Woolf says this weekend's World Cup qualifier against the Cook Islands is like a grand final.

The teams square off at Sydney's Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday, with the winner confirming their place at the 2017 tournament and the loser missing out.

The Kukis only have a handful of first grade regulars, while the Mate Ma'a can call on the likes of Sika Manu, Mahe Fonua, Jorge Taufua and Ukuma Ta'ai.

Kristian Woolf says that experience is invaluable.

"Those guys that have played that high level all the time are obviously accustomed to pressure and accustomed to a all or nothing sort of set up in a game. It certainly helps to have guys like Sika Manu and Ukuma Ta'ai who are obviously experienced campaigners but also outstanding leaders in the group. They certainly go a long way to helping the group be what it is in terms of the team. Both nations are very proud and it's going to come down to who handles the occasion the best [and] who plays the best on the night. It's not too dissimilar to a grand final - obviously those experienced campaigners help but it doesn't get you across the line".

Kristian Woolf says there were other players he would have liked to have selected but, like the Cook Islands, not all clubs were helpful in releasing people.