25 Nov 2017

Sport: Mate Ma'a Tonga primed for England

8:33 am on 25 November 2017
A tee-shirt saying 'Die for Tonga'.

A tee-shirt saying 'Die for Tonga'. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Mate Ma'a Tonga expect to be at their best for tonight's Rugby League World Cup semi-final against England in Auckland.

After the high of toppling the Kiwis in pool play two weeks ago, the Kingdom were made to work hard for a 24-22 victory over Lebanon in the quarter finals.

Coach Kristian Woolf, left, and Mate Ma'a Tonga captain Sika Manu.

Coach Kristian Woolf, left, and Mate Ma'a Tonga captain Sika Manu. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

But coach Kristian Woolf doesn't think his players will have any trouble motivating themselves to play in the Kingdom's first ever semi final.

"We obviously had that little bit of a letdown after the New Zealand game but I don't think you get that two weeks in a row."

"I think we've had our letdown and we had a little bit of a struggle to get up and sometimes it's a good thing in the sense that it gives you some things you can really focus on this week too."

Siosiau Taukeiaho missed the Lebanon game through injury but is back and looking forward to the prospect of trying to topple another tier one nation."

"Going up against England, England's always been in the top three in the world I guess and the game last week against PNG they went extremely well and it's going to be a big game for us this Saturday," he said.

Siliva Havili has been sharing hooking duties with Sione Katoa throughout the tournament and says while England have strike-power all over park the Kingdom back themselves to do well.

"There's always a belief in our team. We've put ourselves in this position (and while) last week's game wasn't our best but we've certainly learned from that and hopefully come out with a result worth cheering for on the weekend."

Woolf said support from the Tongan community has been overwhelming throughout the tournament and they're looking forward to a bumper crowd in South Auckland.

"We are back at Mount Smart where the majority of Tongans do live in Auckland and I'm not sure what the capacity is but I'd be pretty sure we could fill it this week and fill the majority with Tongans," he said.

A sell-out crowd of 30,000 will be in attendance tonight in what is the biggest rugby league crowd at Mount Smart Stadium since the Auckland Warriors debut season in 1995.

World Cup General Manager of New Zealand, Andrea Nelson, said the focus on showcasing New Zealand's Pacific communities had paid dividends.

"Fans in this country, led by the Pacific communities, have produced live sport atmospheres rarely seen in New Zealand," Nelson said.

"The scenes at our venues have captured the hearts of the public. This five weeks has been another great showcase of New Zealand's ability to host big international events."

Tonga are all smiles after beating New Zealand to finish atop Group B.

Tonga are all smiles after beating New Zealand to finish atop Group B. Photo: NRL Photos