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Tonga gain Staggs but lose Talakai for Kiwis Test

Kotoni Staggs is set to play for the Mate Ma’a Tonga team in Saturday's Test against New Zealand in Auckland after being omitted from the NSW squad for Origin II.

Staggs and Blues team-mate Daniel Tupou were last week named in an extended Tonga squad for the Test at Mt Smart Stadium - despite the pair playing in the Origin series opener on June 8.

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf named Tupou on the wing and Staggs at five-eighth - and he confirmed to NRL.com on Sunday night that the latter was not set to take his place against the Kiwis.

However, Tonga have lost Cronulla centre Siosifa Talakai, who was one of seven new faces in a 22-man NSW squad named for Sunday night's must win Origin clash in Perth.

Woolf said he had been aware that the likes of Tupou, Staggs, Talakai and Manly Sea Eagles forward Haumole Olakau’atu could be named in two teams and would have to decide but he didn't want them to miss out on playing next weekend if they weren't chosen by NSW coach Brad Fittler.

Under international eligibility rules, players can play for both their state and Tonga.

Staggs is now expected to play five-eighth for Tonga and partner rookie St George Illawarra Dragons playmaker Talatau Amone at the scrum-base.

Manly winger Christian Tuipulotu is expected to replace Tupou in the Tonga line-up, while either Parramatta's Will Penisini or West Tigers back Starford To'a are likely to replace Talakai, who was selected in the centres.

To'a could play fullback with Sea Eagles rookie Tolotau Koula shifting to the centres, or Woolf could select Penisini a direct replacement for Talakai.

Tonga will be coached by caretaker coach Dean Young for this match with Woolf unavailable because of English Super League duties with St Helens.

Jason Taumaolo after Tonga's Test match against Australia in 2018.
Jason Taumaolo after Tonga's Test match against Australia in 2018. ©NRL Photos

Woolf said Tonga had named its strongest available squad as the Pacific nation looks towards providing the best possible squad for the end-of-season World Cup in England.

“We have named a powerful squad that includes experienced players who have helped Tonga to victories in the past,” Woolf said.

“There is also a sprinkling of new players in the squad who will be important as we move forward in a World Cup year and beyond.

If as many of our players as possible are playing representative football next week, the stronger our World Cup squad will be.

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf

“There are players that can play both State of Origin and for Tonga and a decision on where they play will be made by Sunday when both interstate and international teams are selected for next week’s representative matches.

“What we don’t wish to happen is that players who have this dual eligibility are not picked in one squad and then miss out on being available to play in another other team.

Tonga Squad

  1. Tolotau Koula (Sea Eagles)
  2. TBC
  3. TBC
  4. Mosese Suli (Dragons)
  5. Sione Katoa (Sharks)
  6. Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)
  7. Talatau Amone (Dragons)
  8. Siosiua Taukieaho (Roosters)
  9. Siliva Havili (Rabbitohs)
  10. Addin Fonua-Blake (Warriors)
  11. Sitili Tupouniua (Roosters)
  12. Keaon Koloamatangi (Rabbitohs)
  13. Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
  14. Soni Luke (Panthers)
  15. Haumole Olakau’atu (Sea Eagles)
  16. Tevita Pangai jnr (Bulldogs)
  17. Tevita Tatola (Rabbitohs)
  18. Moeaki Fotuaika (Titans)
  19. Will Penisini (Eels)
  20. Isaiya Katoa (Panthers)
  21. Andrew Fifita (Sharks)
  22. Joe Ofahengaue (Wests Tigers)
  23. Starford To’a (Wests Tigers)
  24. Christian Tuipulotu (Sea Eagles)
  25. Eliesa Katoa (Warriors)

Coach: Dean Young

International rugby league returns to New Zealand with the Kiwi Ferns facing Tonga women and the Kiwis taking on Tonga in a double-header at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25. Get your tickets here. 

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