Tonga’s rugby league dramas will drag on for another three weeks after the nation’s expelled board appealed their ban.
The IRL will meet on 18 March to hear the administration’s appeal, after the Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) opted to fight their expulsion earlier this week.
It comes after months of fighting between Tongan players and the administration over finances and the initial axing of Kristian Woolf as coach.
The drama threatened to put a large dent in international rugby league last year, with Tonga players on the threat of boycotting the Nines World Cup and other matches.
Led by Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo, they successfully had the TNRL suspended last October by the IRL with the Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League registered by local clubs.
The players eventually ran out for an invitational side, claiming the country’s first wins against Australia and Great Britain and breathing new life into the international game with Woolf reinstated.
The IRL this week continued to press on with the invitational side, confirming they would play in a four-team Pacific Nations this year alongside New Zealand. Samoa and the Cook Islands starting in June.
That could again be thrown into chaos if the TNRL’s appeal is successful.
For now, Tongan players are at least relieved the saga is almost coming to an end.
“There was a big thing there going on about money, but at the end of the day we don’t play for the money,” Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake told AAP.
“We made that pretty clear that we’re not here for the money, we’re here for the opportunity to put our country on the map and I think we did that.
“There was a lot of people from the board and all of that sort of stuff and they came out saying nasty things about the team, calling us a rebel team.
“We sat back and said we knew in house that we weren’t fighting (a battle) that wasn’t ours, all we wanted to do was play for our country.
“They wanted their hand in the cookie jar all the time, but they ended up getting found out.”
The TNRL have long denied any wrongdoing, drawing on the support of Tongan community leaders in New Zealand to criticise their suspension last year.
However former Prime Minister Semisi Sika at one stage urged the IRL to remove the board, while he was in the country’s top political job last September.