Tonga coach Woolf backs RLWC postponement

Tonga coach Woolf backs RLWC postponement

Tonga head coach Kristian Woolf says the decision to push back the 2021 World Cup by 12 months is the correct one.

Australian Woolf, whose day job is coach of Super League champions and Challenge Cup winners St Helens, says his Tongan players were still keen to play in the tournament in England this autumn when the decision was made to postpone.

“We certainly made it clear that, if it went ahead, we were committed to being a part of the World Cup,” Woolf said.

“That was regardless of what Australia and New Zealand's stance was. We were more than happy to crack on.

“What changed probably was the stance of the NRL clubs and I do understand where they're coming from – they're protecting their biggest assets, which are their players, and I also understand it's a different landscape in Australia.

“So I don't hold it against them, even though we have a different point of view.

“I'm really disappointed it's off but the way things have started to transpire, I do think it probably is the correct decision.”

Woolf, who has guided Tonga to fourth place in the world rankings behind Australia, New Zealand and England, paid tribute to the work of World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton in dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the refusal of NRL clubs to support the tournament.

“One thing I'd like to say is that I have enormous respect for Jon Dutton and the way he has gone about things,” he said. “He's been put in a really difficult position but I think he's been really transparent.

“He's handled himself really well and he deserves a lot of credit for that and for making the right decision at the end of the day.”

Woolf says his Tonga team will use the time to rest up.

“My personal feeling, after the discussions that I've had with a number of our Tongan players, is that we're best off using this break as an off-season to actually rest and recover from what's been a really tough couple of years,” he added.

“By doing that, I think we'll be in a better position to really go and attack the World Cup at the end of next year.

“What you've got to remember is that the NRL and the Super League seasons are really, really tough physically and really tough mentally and any time you get to have off is a real plus for the standard of the game that you're going to be able to play and the standard of next year's World Cup.”

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