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Time for Tonga to shine at World Cup in England

The labour of love Charles Tonga embarked upon when driving south from Brisbane to watch his homeland in the 2008 World Cup has been superseded by a considerable distance, as he invests in Mate Ma'a Tonga's future.

When Tonga finished his brief NRL career as a frontrower, he was initially content to step back and spectate, when Tonga played Samoa in the group stage of the previous cup, hosted by Australia.

"I drove all the way to Sydney with my mates. I was standing in this corner just being a spectator, just watching the game," he says, while gazing out over Penrith's headquarters in Sydney's west.

"I had no idea I'd be coaching my nation at the next one."

Samoa won 20-12 that night, but when the Pacific Island rivals met at the same ground in April, Tonga were comfortable 36-4 winners - a margin that might have been greater had a pitch invasion not seen the game called off before the final conversion could be taken.

Tonga was in the coaching box to witness one of Tongan rugby league's greatest moments, and he has been back in Penrith over the past month preparing his side for this month's World Cup, in the UK, Ireland and France.

He was initially reluctant to succeed Jim Dymock as national coach, even though he maintained a strong affinity with his home, despite emigrating to Australia as a 5-year-old.

In 2009 he began regular trips to Nuku'alofa and beyond to develop the code and identify talented youngsters - a benevolent gesture facilitated by his recruitment company.

Tonga's 22-game first-grade career was unremarkable, but the code taught him one vital life lesson while sitting on the bench behind big-name props at the Canterbury Bulldogs or Sydney Roosters - professional football is not a long-term job.

He was already self-employed when making his debut for the Bulldogs at age 27 in 2005, as a replacement for captain Steve Price, who left Belmore for Auckland at the end of the previous season.

Tonga joined a front-row unit featuring Roy Asotasi, Willie Mason and Mark O'Meley so his game time was limited - and that scenario continued at the Roosters in 2006-07, where he was the low-profile defection compared to Braith Anasta.

"It was a short career, very short, but I had a life for myself before I played NRL, and I could go back to it when I finished.

"I tell the boys to start looking for life after footy. You can't just live for the time being. Save money, buy a house . . ."

TONGAN SQUAD Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks), Glen Fisi'iahi (NZ Warriors), Mahe Fonua (Melbourne Storm), Daniel Foster (Penrith Panthers), Sydney Havea (Liahona Old Boys, Tonga), Siliva Havili (Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Warriors), Brent Kite (Manly Sea Eagles), Samsoni Langi (Sydney Roosters), Siuatonga Likiliki (Newcastle Knights), Willie Manu (St Helens), Sika Manu (Penrith), Nesiasi Mataitonga (Cronulla), Fuifui Moimoi (Parramatta Eels), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Wests Tigers), Mickey Paea (Hull KR), Patrick Politini (Cronulla), Nafe Seluini (Roosters), Ukuma Ta'ai (Huddersfield Giants), Jorge Taufua (Manly), Jason Taumololo (North Queensland Cowboys), Peni Terepo (Parramatta), Daniel Tupou (Roosters), Siosa Vave (Parramatta)

Source: Fairfax NZ News
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