South Sydney have recruited two members of the touring Tongan Schoolboys team and others may also be offered life changing opportunities with NRL clubs.

The Tongan Schoolboys and Schoolgirls teams flew home on Tuesday after successful tours to Australia and the news that a number of players are set to return on scholarship will generate a further explosion of participation numbers.

The Cowboys signed two players – Epafeliasi Noa and Alekisio Siale – after last year’s inaugural Tongan Schoolboys tour and the realisation of the opportunities in the NRL resulted in a doubling of schools playing rugby league in Tonga.

With the Tongan Schoolgirls winning all three matches of their historic tour, players are also being eyed off by clubs when the NRLW expands to 12 teams in 2025.

“The Rabbitohs have identified two boys in the group that are potentially looking to come over on school scholarships through the Rabbitohs pathways next year, and we have a couple of other boys pending,” NRL Tonga manager Tavake Fangupo said.

“The girls have been very, very successful and there have been a few discussions about a couple of players who did really, really well, and could potentially get some opportunities in the future.”

Rabbitohs head of elite pathways and player development, Tyrone McCarthy, said Malakai Havealeta and Sione Finau had been offered scholarships at Keebra Park High School after playing against the renowned league nursery.

McCarthy said the duo would join the Rabbitohs’ South-East Queensland Development Academy in Brisbane.

“The idea is that they will be based at Keebra for the next couple of years and then when they are at SG Ball-age we would look to bring them down and give them an opportunity with ourselves if they are tracking well,” McCarthy said.

“It is only going to benefit the Tongan national team if they have pathways into the NRL and Keebra is a great school with a rich history of producing NRL players.

“The reason we have formed a relationship with Keebra is to make sure we are at the front of the queue to get the best talent available and to give young players an opportunity to get into an NRL pathway.”

The Rabbitohs have links to Tonga through interim coach Ben Hornby, who assisted Kristian Woolf at the last World Cup in 2022, while Keaon Koloamatangi, Tevita Tatola, Siliva Havili and Dion Teaupa have represented the nation.

The Tongan Schoolboys team visited the Dolphins, where Woolf, Tevita Pangai Junior and Isaiya Katoa performed a jersey presentation, and the Titans, where they were hosted by David Fifita and Jojo Fifita.

They also attended games, as did the schoolgirls team, which was based in Sydney and spent time at the Panthers, where they met Nathan Cleary and other players.

“We also had the opportunity to sit down with Sam Tagataese, who is the welfare manager for the Dolphins,” Fangupo said.

“He talked about how important education was in the game, which was a great session to teach the boys that it is not all just footy.”

“It was a great experience for the girls too, they have gone to two NRL games and had the opportunity to go through the Penrith set up. For them to get that opportunity with a premiership winning team was just amazing.”

Fangupo said the success of the tours would have a significant impact on the growth of the game in Tonga, with the number of schools playing rugby league doubling to 16 after the inaugural tour to Australia last year.

“We had the tour last year and two boys got signed with the Cowboys so when we launched the competition this year, every kid wanted to play rugby league, be part of the tour and get the same opportunity as those boys,” he said.

“This year we decided to include the girls, which is only fair given the amount of talented girls in Tonga and, also with the NRLW being semi-professional sport, we thought we would give them the same opportunity.

“The idea is to have this tour ongoing every year and that will help grow our game back in the Pacific islands.

“When we get back, we will kick off our junior competition, which will probably reflect even more numbers because of this tour and kids wanting to play our game.”.