New Zealand Rugby League has confirmed the Kiwis will play Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25.
The Kiwis Ferns will also play against Tonga in the first fixture of a double header that sees a return to international footy in New Zealand for the first time in almost three years.
The tests will be played during the State of Origin stand-alone weekend, with Queensland playing New South Wales in Perth the following day. Having the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns play at Mt Smart Stadium is a controversial move as it will happen one week before the Warriors’ emotional homecoming game against Wests Tigers on July 3 at the same venue.
The Warriors also haven’t played in New Zealand since 2019 and the club are promising that it will be a huge occasion when the team take to the field at Mt Smart Stadium again.
However, some gloss could be taken off that homecoming, by the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns getting in first at Mt Smart Stadium, rather than at a different venue.
For the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns will be important tests, with the World Cup happening in England later this year and it will give their respective coaches, Michael Maguire and Ricky Henry an opportunity to work with a bunch of players who haven’t been all together in a long time.
NZRL CEO Greg Peters says they only recently became confident that tests could be played in New Zealand this year.
“It only became possible to play this in New Zealand in the last month or six weeks with the relaxation of the border restrictions, but more importantly, the lifting of all crowd restrictions, to enable us to fill Mt Smart,” Peters said.
“It’s the return of international football and we’re billing it as that after a two-year hiatus.
“It’s also the return of a rivalry in international rugby league that has captured the hearts and minds of sports fans.
“For the first time, we’re also the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns both against Tonga, so it should be massive occasions for both teams.”
As for playing at Mt Smart Stadium before the Warriors, Peters said they didn’t have any choice on when the tests could be played and they wanted to have them at the spiritual home of league in New Zealand.
“The timing is not of our making, it’s a one-week availability, it’s the stand alone State of Origin weekend which allows international football,” he said.