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‘If he’s in form, he’s in mix’: Tonga open door for Folau Test return

“He’s a very good athlete, he’s a good player and he’s shown that over a number of years and codes. No one is doubting his talent at all. If he can get back to the level he has been at in the past, he’s certainly in the conversation.

Israel Folau in his new life with Catalans Dragons.

Israel Folau in his new life with Catalans Dragons.Credit:AP

“Our first thoughts are we have to be loyal to the blokes who have done such a tremendous job over the past couple of years. Unless they no longer deserve to be there, they will get the nod.”

Folau was inadvertently embroiled in a political battle between the warring factions seeking control of the Tongan national team last year. The former Wallaby was floated as a potential representative selection when the majority of incumbents refused to play under the previous board. It became a moot point when the Tongan directors were frozen out and an “Invitational” team selected.

There were suggestions Tonga’s Test availability would be an agenda item during last week’s International Rugby League board meeting. However, chairman Greg Barclay said it wasn’t discussed.

Asked if Folau would be welcomed by the Tongan players, Woolf said: “We’d cross that bridge if we come to it. At the moment he’s only back in the sport for the first time in something like 10 years. It hasn’t been anything discussed.

“I know that all good players feel the same way – they certainly want the team to be picked from who is playing the best and who will represent Tonga the best.

“Anyone who is going to come into the side is going to have to force their way in there because we’ve got a group of blokes who have performed over a long period of time. They certainly deserve loyalty.”

Woolf said Folau couldn’t expect to simply walk into a team that upset the Kangaroos in their last game. “Blokes like Konrad Hurrell and Michael Jennings, they were outstanding and showed their class,” Woolf said. “You’ve got young guys like Moses Suli who is coming through and has been there in the past and wants to play again.

“When you have the emergence of guys like Tesi Niu, we need to figure out where he fits. He played fullback against Great Britain and didn’t end up playing him against Australia. Kotoni Staggs has played a bit of centres for us in the past and could do a job at five-eighth, so there’s a fair bit of competition and depth there, that’s for sure.”

Tonga is a legitimate contender for the 2021 World Cup, although it remains to be seen whether there will be any Test football this year due to the coronavirus.

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“When you play internationals at the end of the year it’s a big year and next year is going to be massive with the World Cup,” Woolf said. “If we get an enforced break, I don’t think that’s a negative at all.”

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