Pangai picks NSW, casting doubt on his representative future
Tongan wrecking ball Tevita Pangai Junior may have played his last game for the Mate Ma'a, saying his international representative future is up in the air. The Brisbane back-rower was in Sydney on Friday as part of a NSW camp under coach Brad Fittler after making himself available for the Blues next year. Despite still being eligible for Tonga even if he is picked for the Blues in 2019, Pangai said he was undecided about whether he would play for the powerhouse Pacific nation again.
Under Rugby League International Federation rules, Pangai can play for both NSW and Tonga, since they are classified as a tier-two nation.
Should he be picked for NSW, it means he won't be available for Tonga's mid-year Test, which will be played on the same weekend as Origin II in Perth. It was widely expected that he would elect to represent the Blues during the year but turn out for Tonga in their end-of-year Tests.
However he was coy on what he would take part in Tonga's post-NRL season Tests against Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Pangai, who was born in Sydney and spent his youth in Newcastle, is also eligible for Australia.
"I haven't made that decision yet," Pangai said.
Pressed on whether he might not play for Tonga again, Pangai said: "I'm a proud New South Welshmen as well as a Tongan, but I haven't made my mind up." Fittler on Friday welcomed a host of present and potential Blues player into camp at NSWRL headquarters at Homebush.
The 2018 Blues squad was joined by past players who are still in the mix such as Mitchell Pearce, Jack Bird and Wade Graham, as well a handful of potential future players including Pangai, Nick Cotric and Cameron Murray. St George Illawarra and Blues back-rower Jack de Belin, who was on Thursday charged with aggravated sexual assault, was absent.
When asked about his decision to make himself available for Origin, Pangai said: "I feel like I've done well for Tonga.
"As a kid playing in junior reps for NSW, as a kid from Newcastle, it's been a hard decision but it's something I've never felt before and it's something I want to feel. I'm entertaining it right now." Fittler said Pangai was well in the mix for next year's series, adding to his abundance of back-row stocks.
"Last year he came in when Tommy Raudonikis came into camp, he was part of that jersey presentation and got a good feeling with the group, he made up his own mind," Fittler said.
"I'm just keen to see how he goes this year, he has a new coach, he's a very talented player."