His parents ran for Tonga at the Olympics, and now this Manly flyer will run for Tonga in a rugby league Test against New Zealand.
He’s the talented teenager with some of the fastest wheels in rugby league, and now Manly sensation Tolu Koula can show off those skills on the international stage after he sped into Tonga’s squad for Saturday’s Test against New Zealand.
The 19-year-old is set to be unleashed at fullback where he’ll relish the extra space playing behind a forward pack that includes Jason Taumalolo and Addin Fonua-Blake, with Tevita Pangai Jr to come off the bench.
Tonga’s rapid rise since the 2017 World Cup has been one of the great stories in rugby league, and Taumalolo can be thanked for helping spark a generation of players who’d rather pull on the red jersey than chase the big bucks playing for New Zealand or Australia.
“He started that whole movement of top-tier lads wanting to play for their own country and not the tier-1 teams. It was pretty special to play against him,” Koula said of Taumalolo, who got the better of him and the Sea Eagles on Friday night.
“I grew up a pretty passionate Blues fan, but playing for Tonga was always in the back of my mind as well. I think with everything that Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita have done to inspire young lads to follow their path, it’s a big reason why I wanted to play for Tonga.”
International rugby league has been in hibernation due to the pandemic, but a return to New Zealand this weekend will be the boost the game needs before the World Cup later in the year.
Tonga beat New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup in one of the competition’s great upsets and they then knocked off the Kangaroos two years later on a night that will never be forgotten.
“I really enjoyed that and what they did. They went a long way, and me and my family watched every game,” Koula said when asked about the 2017 tournament and his time spent in the stands at the Pacific Tests over the years.
“To be apart of it now is a dream. You get goosebumps just being in the stands, and to potentially be out there on the field now is going to be crazy.”
Koula will now get the chance to represent Tonga, just like his parents did at the Olympics. Ana and Toluta’u senior both competed for Tonga at multiple Olympic Games including 2000 in Sydney.
He’s inherited their speed and also their humility because unlike most stories in rugby league, he was able to keep the news of his selection secret from his family.
“I didn’t really tell anyone. Even my parents found out through the media,” said the teenager who got the call from Tongan coach Kristian Woolf, who will miss Saturday’s Test while still in the UK.
“What my parents did is pretty special, so to be able to represent Tonga will be a dream come true.
“’Woolfy’ called me a couple of weeks ago and told me to be mindful and ready that I might get the call-up into the squad. It was always in the back of my mind, but for it to be in the paper that I was announced in the squad is crazy.”
Koula has some family members in Auckland and he’s also expecting some relatives to make the trip across the ditch this weekend to see him hopefully show off that famous speed of his that led to a drought-breaking try after a 10-game wait earlier this month .
“It was pretty special to get over the line, but man, it took too long,” he said. “I’m just happy to score my first try.”