The highly-anticipated rematch between the New Zealand Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga in June in Auckland kicks off a blockbuster year of International Rugby League that also sees the return of the Great Britain Rugby League Lions.
These matches, and the inaugural Oceania Cup, were announced today at a media conference at Eden Park, Auckland.
The Kiwis will take on Tonga on June 22 at Mt Smart Stadium in the first match of the Oceania Cup. The last time the Pacific rivals faced off was a seismic match-up that launched the Tongan superstars into the top tier of International Rugby League.
The match is part of a double header with fans getting the chance to see some of the biggest stars in the women’s game in action with the Kiwi Ferns confirmed to play.
Tickets for the last two Tongan matches in New Zealand sold out in days – so event organisers encourage fans who don’t want to miss out to register at Ticketek for access to the pre-sale window.
The ground-breaking inaugural RLIF Oceania Cup will see Pool A teams (New Zealand, Australia, and Tonga) compete for the Oceania Cup Trophy and Pool B teams (Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea) compete for promotion into Pool A in 2020.
Organisers also announced that the Great Britain Rugby League Lions will return to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in 13 years, playing two Test matches against New Zealand and Tests against Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
This reaches a pinnacle in New Zealand with an electric triple header at Eden Park on November 2 where Samoa will face Fiji, New Zealand will take on the Rugby League Lions and Tonga will play Australia in a rematch of last year’s sell-out Test.
This program of matches is a joint venture between Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) and England Rugby Football League (RFL) with Duco Events as the exclusive event delivery partner.
New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters said he was excited that local fans would get to enjoy such a feast of International Rugby League.
"The Kiwis versus Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium will be a blockbuster occasion to kick off a momentous year for International Rugby League fans in New Zealand.
“New Zealand Rugby League is also delighted to be bringing such an incredible array of matches to New Zealand that will also benefit the teams throughout the Pacific. We could not be doing this without the support of New Zealand Government and our host city partners Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), H3 in Hamilton and ChristchurchNZ.”
RLIF Southern Hemisphere General Manager Jeremy Edwards was delighted to announce such a packed schedule.
"This international program is both exciting and ground-breaking. The Oceania Cup is an important step in creating a meaningful test matches for Pacific nations and full international calendar that fans, players and commercial partners can enjoy.”
"It has taken a huge amount of work to deliver this and I commend all those who have been involved. It is a great platform for the international game in the Asia Pacific Region."
Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) Chief Executive Officer Ian Prendergast says the Oceania Cup and Great Britain Rugby League Lions are fantastic additions to the International Rugby League calendar.
“It is fantastic that there will be significant international content in 2019, including new properties in the Oceania Cup, as well as the Great Britain Rugby League Lions touring down under.”
“It reflects the enhanced profile, interest and competitiveness of International Rugby League. In particular, the Oceania Cup provides a tremendous new platform for the Pacific nations to compete on the world stage.”
“We have enjoyed working through the process with the RLIF and the nations to establish the schedule for 2019 and look forward to continuing these discussions when planning for future matches takes place.”
“The international game presents exciting opportunities for our members and through continued collaboration we look forward to further showcasing the wonderful rugby league talent we have in the game.”
Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer said the return of the Great Britain Rugby League Lions was highly-anticipated.
“The return of the famous Great Britain jersey is something people have been talking about for a long time so this is an exciting announcement for us.”
“It’s 12 years since Great Britain last played a Test, and 13 since they last travelled to the Southern Hemisphere, for the Tri-Nations series of 2006.”
“There is such history and tradition around that Great Britain shirt, it’s great for the game to have it back and we’ll be committed to respecting and honouring that tradition.”