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Tonga rise to No.2 in rankings

Saturday 9 July 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in Sports

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Tonga rise to No.2 in rankings
Cook Islands rugby league squad with coach Tony Iro. CIRL/22062111

Mate Ma’a Tonga coach Kristian Woolf and his players aren’t satisfied with their rise to No.2 in the IRL World Rankings – they are aiming to win the World Cup in England at the end of the season.

The IRL rankings were updated after the recent series of mid-year Tests and Tonga has leapfrogged England into second spot behind New Zealand, while the Kiwi Ferns are closing in on the Jillaroos and the Wheelaroos are ranked seventh.

The Kangaroos remain fourth, as they have not played since losing 16-12 to Tonga in 2019, and while Woolf’s team were beaten 26-6 by the Kiwis in June, they upset Great Britain and Australia in their previous two Tests.

With a number of big names unavailable for the mid-year Test, Tonga blooded nine debutants against the Kiwis and Woolf said the depth in his squad would hold them in good stead for the World Cup.

“Some of those young guys put their hands up to say that they are going to be involved in a 24-man squad at the World Cup,” Woolf told RLWC2021.

“We are going to be able to add some real experience, some really big names and some guys who have been there and done it before and know what international rugby league is all about, and be even stronger once we come to the World Cup.

“The potential we have in that squad is really exciting and when we bring the Tongan players together they always connect really quickly and really easily, and that is one of the great things about being involved.

“If they come into that camp fresh, health and confident coming off their NRL or Super League seasons and connect like they have in the past then we are going to give ourselves a real good chance.”

Among the players who missed the sold-out Test at Mt Smart Stadium were Daniel Tupou and Siosifa Talakai, who were on Origin duty for NSW in Perth but have declared their allegiance to Tonga for the World Cup.

Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, Agnatius Paasi, Tevita Pangai Jnr, David Fifita, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Tesi Niu, Tui Lolohea and Manu Ma'u are other players who could come into Tonga’s World Cup squad.

In the Women’s rankings, little now separates Australia, New Zealand and England after recent Test wins by the Kiwi Ferns against Tonga and England’s defeat of France.

Depending on World Cup results, New Zealand could finish 2022 as the No.1 ranked Men’s and Women’s nation for the first time.

England have also narrowed the gap in the Wheelchair rankings after their recent win against France.

With international rugby league recently returning in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, Samoa and the Cook Islands have also risen in the Men’s rankings, while Papua New Guinea and Fiji maintained their standings.

Cook Islands is now placed 20th.

Wales are the big movers among the Northern Hemisphere nations, climbing seven places from 23rd to 16th in the Men’s rankings after their first Test since 2019, while Serbia is now ranked eighth after winning last year’s Euro B Championships.

Wales have also moved up six places from 13th to seventh in the Women’s rankings and remain the third ranked Wheelchair team, behind France and England.

Cook Islands women’s side is ranked 11th.

Men

The Kiwis have improved their standing as the No.1 ranked team, ahead of Tonga, England and Australia – the defending world champions, who slumped to fourth position in the previous rankings and will enter the World Cup with their last Test being a 16-12 loss to Tonga in 2019.

Pacific powerhouses Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa are next, followed by Serbia in eighth position, with the European nation playing four internationals in 2021 and winning each of them.

France dropped from seventh to ninth position and Scotland from 11th to 15th – just ahead of 16th placed Wales, who have risen from 23rd spot.

Among the other big movers are Malta (up from 15th to 10th), Germany (29th to 25th), South Africa (38th to 30th) and Chile (43rd to 32nd) after recent Test activity.

Women

The Jillaroos remain the top ranked Women’s team – but only just, as the Kiwi Ferns and England have played recent Tests, whereas none of Australia’s three national teams have been in action since 2019.

The Kiwi Ferns beat Tonga 50-12 before a record crowd for a women's international of 18,369 in last month's double-header at Mt Smart Stadium, while England beat France 36-10 at Warrington.

Tonga, and the United States have made their first appearance in the IRL Women’s World Rankings after the recent international fixtures – taking the number of active women’s teams to 20.

Tonga are ranked 10th following the Test against the Kiwi Ferns, while the USA Redtails are five places below after their international debut against Canada in April.

Wales have climbed from 13th place to seventh after bouncing back from a 32-6 loss to England in June to beat Italy 60-0.

  • Brad Walter/NRL.com