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England vs Tonga: Talking points and squad news ahead of first match in historic Test series

England host Tonga in an historic three-Test series, which kicks off on Sunday at St Helens' Totally Wicked Stadium (2.30pm kick-off); Huddersfield's John Smith's Stadium and AMT Headingley in Leeds host the other two matches in the series

England and Tonga Joint Press Conference - Totally Wicked Stadium - Tuesday October 17th
England's Jack Welsby and Tonga's Keaon Koloamatangi during a press conference ahead of the first test match at the Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens. Picture date: Tuesday October 17, 2023.

We take a look at what is being said as England host Tonga in a three-Test series for the first time, with the first match of the series in St Helens on Sunday...

Can England lay World Cup ghosts to rest?

Nearly a year has passed since England fell short at their home Rugby League World Cup with a surprise golden-point defeat to Samoa in the semi-finals.

Now they face another Pacific Island side in Tonga in a three-Test series, with the No 5-ranked team in the world travelling to the northern hemisphere for a full tour for the first time.

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Highlights of the mid-season international between England and France.

England's sole outing since last year's World Cup saw them trounce France 64-0 in the mid-season international.

"I believe we have a strong side that has the right mixture of senior and younger players," said England coach Shaun Wane. "It's important to me that the squad consists of players who are proud to represent England and I know that's the case with this group, and we are looking forward to a great camp.

"Having options in each position shows how much of a great talent pool there is. I think we can always improve, and it shows the level of the Super League is getting better.

"It needs to keep improving and hopefully challenge with the NRL."

Also See:

Picture by Will Palmer/ - 12/11/2022 - Rugby League - Rugby League World Cup 2021 - Semi Final - England v Samoa - Emirates Stadium, London, England - Jack Welsby of England is dejected after their sides 2021 Rugby League World Cup Semi Final loss against Samoa
Image: Jack Welsby was stung by England's semi-final exit at the World Cup

England's preparations for the match at Totally Wicked Stadium have been affected by injuries to the likes of Dom Young, Alex Walmsley, Jonny Lomax and Jake Wardle, while captain George Williams is suspended for the first two Tests of the series.

St Helens' Jack Welsby will therefore lead the team out at his club home ground on Sunday and the 22-year-old has vowed there will be no repeat of the costly mistakes from last year's World Cup.

"If we're completely honest with ourselves, maybe there was a bit of complacency in the semi-final because we'd been putting some big scores on teams and we thought we were better than we were," Welsby said.

"It was the worst feeling I've ever had on a rugby field, and if you don't learn lessons from days like that, you never will. I'm pretty sure after what happened last year, you're not going to see the same mistakes against Tonga."

Series fixtures

Sunday, October 22: England vs Tonga (Totally Wicked Stadium, 2.30pm).

Saturday, October 28: England vs Tonga (John Smith's Stadium, 2.30pm).

Saturday, November 4: England vs Tonga (AMT Headingley, 2.30pm).

Woolf urges Tonga to 'fulfil their potential'

Kristian Woolf's three years coaching in England were filled with success, yet there is one moment from his time over here which he is keen to make amends for.

A three-time Betfred Super League Grand Final winner during his time in charge of St Helens, the Australian also brought his Mate Ma'a team to these shores to compete in last year's Rugby League World Cup.

However, a quarter-final exit to fierce Pacific Island rivals and eventual runners-up Samoa proved a disappointing early end to a tournament in which Tonga were considered strong favourites to challenge Australia's dominance. Woolf wants to erase that pain once and for all.

"We were disappointed with the outcome of the World Cup," Woolf said ahead of the first Test against England at his old home ground.

Picture by Olly Hassell/ - 17/10/2023 - England v Tonga Test Series 2023 Press Conference - The Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens, England - Tonga...s Head Coach Kristian Woolf
Image: Former St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf is back on these shores leading Tonga against England

"The No 1 thing I want to see is this squad playing to their full potential. I'm confident that if we do that, we'll be in contention in every game and will give ourselves the best chance.

"We've come here to challenge and make up for the World Cup. The team's priority is showing the fans what we are capable of."

The series marks the first time England have hosted a tier-two nation in a full Test tour and Tonga's first visit to these shores outside of a World Cup since they took part in the one-off Federation Shield in 2006.

It is an opportunity which nations outside rugby league's traditional 'big three' of England, Australia, and New Zealand have long sought and Woolf is determined to make the most of it.

England and Tonga previous meetings

Date Result Venue
October 29, 2006 England 40-18 Tonga Twickenham Stoop, London
November 14, 2006 England 32-14 Tonga DCBL Stadium, Widnes
November 25, 2017 England 20-18 Tonga Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

"I think it's a very historic tour," Woolf said. "We're the first tier-two nation to be invited over to come and play in a three-Test series against a tier-one nation, so it's a big opportunity for us and we're really excited about it.

"For a long time now, we've wanted more opportunities and big games so now we have our chance, we have to take full advantage of it.

"We've started to develop skilful players in Tonga. It's why we've been able to compete against the top nations over the past few years. It's something that the whole nation is proud of."

England vs Tonga squads

England 19-player squad: John Bateman (Wests Tigers), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves), Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors), Chris Hill (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons), Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees (both St Helens), Mikey Lewis (Hull KR), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Mike McMeeken (Catalans Dragons), Robbie Mulhern (Leigh Leopards), Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos), Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves), Jack Welsby (St Helens, captain), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders).

Tonga: Latu Fainu (Manly Sea Eagles), Addin Fonua-Blake (New Zealand Warriors), Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast Titans), Tyson Frizell (Newcastle Knights), Siliva Havili (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell (both St Helens), Isaiya Katoa (Dolphins), Eliesa Katoa (Melbourne Storm), Felise Kaufusi (Dolphins), Keaon Koloamatangi (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Tolutau Koula (Manly Sea Eagles), Tui Lolohea (Huddersfield Giants), Haumole Olakau'atu (Manly Sea Eagles), Will Penisini (Parramatta Eels), Hame Sele (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Mosese Suli (St George Illawarra Dragons), Tevita Tatola, Dion Teaupa (both South Sydney Rabbitohs), Starford Toa (Wests Tigers), Daniel Tupou, Siua Wong (both Sydney Roosters).

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