Can Charles Tonga conquer the world with ... Tonga?
TONGA may be a small nation but national rugby league team coach Charles Tonga has big things planned for his side at next month's World Cup.
Tonga, a former NRL forward with the Roosters and Bulldogs, will coach a side that includes Manly great Brent Kite, rising Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell and Eels prop Fuifui Moimoi.
The 35-year-old, who lives in Springfield, is the ideal coach for Tonga because of his love for his people and the outstanding work he has done with the grass roots of the game in the proud island nation.
After finishing his NRL career Tonga played Queensland Cup with Easts and then joined the Swifts club in Ipswich where he won an IRL premiership.
After being appointed national coach he had a plan to help young Tongan footballers both on and off the field. Ask Tonga the reason he put his hand up for the job and his answer is shot back in an instant.
"For this flag," Tonga says as he holds up the national emblem.
"I was appointed in 2009 and I am doing this because of the passion and the love that I have for my country. It is a great honour.
"I am part of a local Breakthrough Church here and the pastor David Vaka is from Tonga.
"We went to Tonga (in 2010) to do a lot of missionary work. I have a lot of passion to see the young kids succeed and when I went there I also did a lot of development work with them.
"We started bringing those kids out to Swifts. I brought about 10 of them out here to Australia.
"The (Tongan Rugby League) board had seen that throughout the years they had brought guys in to coach the nation who didn't really care about the grass roots or have an understanding of our culture or who we are as people.
"They liked what I did and could see that I was genuine. It wasn't about money or a position."
The Tongan players, many of whom are NRL stars who have elected to play for the homeland rather than New Zealand or Australia, are playing for love not money.
"Our allowance is forty pounds a day (in the UK)," Tonga says.
"There is some prize money if we win the World Cup, but this is not about money. Ever since I have worked for Tonga I have not been paid one cent.
"The boys make good money in the NRL. That is their jobs, but to have the opportunity to represent your country at the World Cup is like going to the Olympics.
"The boys are very excited about the challenge at the end of the year. I have built a very strong relationship with the boys. I shared with them my vision and they really bought into it."
Tonga beat Samoa 36-4 earlier this year and it was a victory that built self-belief and unity.
Tonga are in the same World Cup group as Scotland and Italy and have an inter-group clash with Cook Islands. If they top their group, a quarter final against New Zealand looms.
"They are the world champions and when you are...everybody wants to knock you off," Tonga says.
"That is the awesome thing about being the underdog. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Before that we have to worry about Scotland, Italy and the Cook Islands. If you underestimate your opponent...that is a weakness."
Many of the players were born with Tongan heritage, but have grown up in Australia. They have not visited their homeland, so Tonga is taking them all there before the World Cup to meet the King of Tonga, host clinics and to touch base with their roots.
The Tongan nation has produced amazing footballers with former All Black Jonah Lomu the most famous. No doubt there is another Lomu waiting to be discovered.
"We are a proud people, but we don't have resources like gold," Tonga says.
"But one thing we do export is sports people - rugby league and rugby union players. We are known for our Christianity and our faith...and our footy.
"You've seen Jonah Lomu. He's a Tongan. Now we have a kid like Konrad Hurrell. He came out of Tonga when he was 16 and look at him now. He's a powerhouse.
"Those are the talents that we have in Tonga, but there are many more that we have not seen yet."