Tonga told to keep lid on Cup expectations

Laine Clark
Jason Taumalolo is one of several big names in the Tongan World Cup squad

Keeping a lid on Tonga's Rugby League World Cup expectations may seem as challenging as stopping their controversial recruit Jason Taumalolo one-on-one.

But Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has warned his star-studded side not to take Scotland lightly in Sunday's opening group clash in Cairns otherwise the title threats could quickly become tournament flops.

World No.11 Tonga have suddenly emerged as dark horses after the well publicised defections of New Zealand's Taumalolo and Kangaroos prop Andrew Fifita.

Woolf admitted he would be very disappointed if Tonga did not at least make the quarter-finals for the first time at their fifth World Cup after the star duo's arrival sent a buzz through their squad.

A victory over an injury-ravaged Scotland would all but guarantee Tonga advances from Group B - also featuring former champions New Zealand and Pacific powerhouses Samoa - and secures a maiden Cup quarter-final.

The Bravehearts appear vulnerable without injured NRL stars Peter Wallace, Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett and Euan Aitken.

However, Woolf believed the weekend clash with world No.4 Scotland was a classic danger game.

He was still ruing their 26-24 opening loss to the Bravehearts that ensured they missed out on advancing to the 2013 World Cup quarter-finals.

"I would be very disappointed with the squad that we have got if we are not playing finals," Woolf said of Tonga.

"At the same time I think we are in the toughest pool. We are ranked No.11 and we are playing two, four and five in the world.

"If we look past Scotland this weekend we could suffer the same fate as 2013 where they beat us by two points and progressed to the quarters.

"That's certainly not a mistake I want to make again."

Still, it will be hard for Tonga to curb their Cup enthusiasm.

Woolf conceded he had to dramatically rejig his tournament goals after Taumalolo and Fifita switched their allegiances, joining a squad already boasting the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Fuifui Moimoi and Tony Williams.

"When you get those sorts of names in your side you certainly get some more expectation," he said his two big name defectors.

"Our expectations were high anyway but these guys certainly raised them.

"They are quality players and everyone loves playing with them.

"There is an excitement throughout the whole squad about playing with those guys."

Tonga skipper Sika Manu still seemed to be pinching himself over the fact North Queensland wrecking ball Taumalolo and Cronulla giant Fifita would be running out alongside him.

"It's huge. To have them in the squad is massive for the team. To play next to them will be awesome," he said.

"It's been tough when it goes the other way so it's great getting guys back.

"Last World Cup we were struggling to get players but this year everyone has put their hand up."