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Tonga’s emergence as an international powerhouse may be short-lived as players consider boycotting the upcoming World Cup 9s and Tests against Great Britain and Australia over a dispute with the national board that has cast doubts over the future of coach Kristian Woolf.
Former Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan is understood to have already been appointed to coach Mate Ma’a Tonga at the World Cup 9s and there are suggestions he could replace Woolf for the end-of-season Tests if the dispute isn’t resolved quickly.
Players want the interim Tonga National Rugby League board to hold an election and are seeking the removal of chairman George Kolomatangi and secretary William Edwards.
The issue has been simmering for weeks, with Tim Sheens and Trent Barrett also linked to the coaching job, along with Brennan, but former player and official John Hopoate attempted to bring it to a head on Thursday by posting on social media that Woolf had been told to stand down.
Hopoate, whose son Will is the MMT captain, said he was acting as a spokesman for the players and they were writing letters to the TNRL board in support of Woolf, who is credited as the driving force behind the Tonga revolution.
Woolf helped convince Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to choose Tonga over New Zealand and Australia at the 2017 World Cup and other players jumped on board as the team captured the imagination of fans, who ensured the success of the tournament by turning stadiums into a sea of red.
Hopoate said the players could make themselves available for Australia and New Zealand in the end-of-season Oceania Cup.
“If this interim board think that they can come in and do this after all the hard work we have done to get the players to play for Tonga and to stay loyal to us they have got another thing coming,” Hopoate posted.
“Just finished speaking with the players and they are getting letters done up now. But if this board is still the board during the 9s and the two Tests at the end of the year, and as a spokesman for the players, we will NOT be taking any part in any of the games.
“They are talking about going back to Australia and NZ too.”
NRL.com has contacted Kolomatangi, Woolf and Brennan for comment.
The RLPA has also been made aware of the situation with Clint Newton - the union's general manager of stakeholder relations - offering support to the playing group.
RLIF Southern Hemisphere general manager Jeremy Edwards said: "It’s a matter for the Tongan board and we just hope this matter is resolved quickly.".
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