The journey of the Mate Ma’a
Three souvenir programmes will be available to Rugby League supporters and collectors for the five England internationals this autumn – all designed and produced by Curtis Sport, and available at each of the match venues, and also to order online.
The first edition, for the first Test between England and Tonga at the Totally Wicked Stadium, is available now – England v Tonga – The First Test – 22/10/23 (curtis-sport.com)
It’s packed with content, with exclusive interviews with the head coaches Shaun Wane and Kristian Woolf, tributes to retiring legends James Roby and Sam Tomkins, and much more.
There’s also a strong Tongan flavour – and here’s a hint, as respected international Rugby League writer STEVE MASCORD reflects on the journey of the Mate Ma’a, from a memorable northern hemisphere debut at Wilderspool in 1995 to Sunday’s historic Test a few miles away in St Helens.
It was all too much for Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.
The date is October 8, 1995. The place is Warrington’s much missed Wilderspool Stadium. After a series of eye-catching performances in the Pacific Cups and the World Sevens, Tonga have been invited to real thing, a 13-a-side World Cup.
And what a way to open their campaign: against ‘big brother’ New Zealand, boasting the likes of Matthew Ridge, Richie Barnett, Stephen Kearney, Stacey Jones and Henry Paul. The 300-1 outsiders led by Duane Mann and made up mostly of youngsters and journeymen walk out on a sunny afternoon with – seemingly – nothing to lose.
With 10 minutes to go, the Tongans led Frank Endacott’s superstars 24-12. The 8000 crowd sounded like 80,000 and the Kiwis fought their way back to 24-24, with the clock ticking down to zero.
It was about then, according to rumours that spread afterwards, when the King Of Tonga – named in the first paragraph here – fainted. Today, there is no concrete evidence that King Toupou was there. No photos. No quotes. Perhaps it is an urban myth. If he was, no doubt the chilly conditions were a bit of a shock – but the idea of beating New Zealand would have taxed his nervous system every bit as much