FONUA-BLAKE SET TO SWITCH CAMPS TO MATE MA’A TONGA

Just a day after Warriors winger David Fusitu’a pledged to stick with Mate Ma’a Tonga, Manly prop and Kiwis World Cup rep Addin Fonua-Blake revealed he is all but certain to dedicate his international future to the island nation.

Former Junior Kiwi Fonua-Blake debuted for Tonga in the Pacific Test against Fiji last May. But while the likes of Fusitu’a and Jason Taumalolo made late calls to defect from New Zealand’s World Cup squad, Fonua-Blake decided to play for the Kiwis despite also being courted by Tonga.

The Australia-born 22-year-old is swaying back towards donning the red jersey again, however.

“I probably will play for Tonga. I’m more Tongan than Kiwi and I’ve got a lot of strong ties with the boys there,” Fonua-Blake told This Warriors Life in Christchurch today.

“I got a call from Tonga and the Kiwis and I thought (about) which one I wanted to do, I thought I’d go with the Kiwis – you can’t knock it till you try it.

“I had a really good time, I learnt a lot of things off the players but I had a different sort of feeling when I played for Tonga.

“It will be good to get back there with all the boys.”

Fonua-Blake’s only appearance for the Kiwis was off the bench in their 74-6 pool-match demolition of Scotland – ironically in Christchurch – but sitting on the sidelines during Tonga’s stunning upset of his team in Hamilton a week later had a big impact on him personally.

“When the Kiwis played Tonga it was really emotional, looking around and it was a sea of red,” he said.

“It was crazy. And it was heart-warming that our little nation had so much support.

“Although I was supporting the Kiwis I was still happy to see our country developing and everyone getting behind our little nation.”

Fonua-Blake, who spent several years in Auckland as a youngster, emerged as a star of the future in the NYC competition with St George Illawarra but was cut by the club in 2015 for disciplinary reasons. Snapped up Manly, he made his NRL debut in 2016 and won the Sea Eagles’ Rookie of the Year award.

The front-row powerhouse will make his 50th first-grade appearance against the Warriors (and a host of potential Tongan teammates) on Saturday at AMI Stadium, the ground where he made his Kiwis debut.

While he was no guarantee of a spot in the New Zealand side to play England in Denver later this month, Fonua-Blake faces just as much competition to break back into the Mate Ma’a Tonga ranks for their Test against Toa Samoa on the same weekend.

World Cup semi-final incumbents Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Tevita Pangai Jr and Peni Terepo make up a middle-forward contingent to compete with any on the rugby league planet, while Joe Ofahengaue, Sam Moa and Siosaia Vave are also in the mix.

Interestingly, Fonua-Blake disclosed that he had not yet been contacted by incoming Kiwis coach Michael Maguire about his international allegiance.

Players switching nations – particularly Kiwis defecting to Tonga, given it has turned the latter into an instant heavyweight – has become an emotional issue since the World Cup furore, with public opinion split.

But Fonua-Blake is not concerned about becoming the subject of similar backlash that met Taumalolo and co. last year, despite likely being the only Kiwis World Cup squad member to switch camps.

“If you’re headstrong and you know what you want to do, it doesn’t really matter what anyone says.

“At the end of the day, (the players’) job is to play footy.

“It’s not in their contract who they have to play for and they want to have a choice.

“Some people might disagree with it but at the end of the day it’s whatever makes the person happy.”

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