The 2017 World Cup has affected international Rugby League on an unprecedented scale; not only did Pacific sides Tonga and Fiji create a new world order with their victories over New Zealand, but the same Pacific sides have seemingly inspired younger generations to reject the famous All Blacks' shirt for their own.

Jason Taumalolo and the World Cup

When blockbusting forward Jason Taumalolo and a handful of other NRL stars turned their backs on New Zealand Kiwis selection to wear the red of Tonga, they created a seismic shift that may have ongoing repercussions, not just across Rugby League.

After the World Cup, not only were native Tongans even prouder of their tiny island nation, but the interest within the country for Rugby League ballooned considerably.

What a difference a year makes

Last year, Tonga's Auckland-based Under-16s and Under-18s teams contested the Pasifika Youth Cup tournament. The Tongans progressed to both finals, but lost to NZ Maori in the older grade and Samoa in the younger. Hengi Fusitu'a, the sports director of Hakula Tonga Aotearoa, stated recently that just 40 turned up for the trials at the beginning of 2017 to make Tonga's Pasifika Youth Cup side. Effectively, it was rather a case of whoever turned up got in the side.

Yet, this year's trials saw over 100 turn up according to Fusitu'a, a figure which undoubtedly means that the competition and talent will be off the scale. This new popularity for donning the Tongan shirt will be key in generating a world-class Tongan side for years to come.

Rugby Union players

In a surprising twist, many of the 100 that came to the trials were, in fact, from the other code.

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One of these was Sila Titiuti. Titiuti made the transition from loose-forward in the St Kentigern College Rugby Union first XV, to a second-rower and captain of the Hakula Tonga U18 team. His motivation for the move manifested as the Rugby League World Cup progressed.

The passion the Tongans displayed at the tournament and the way Tonga announced themselves to the world convinced Titiuti and many of his peers to join the likes of former New Zealand-turned-Tonga international Konrad Hurrell in the world of Rugby League. Hurrell himself came from Tonga on a Rugby Union scholarship to Auckland Grammar and now stars in the NRL for Gold Coast Titans. With the World Cup generating an unfathomable pride in the Tongan Rugby League side, Tituiti is unlikely to be an isolated example of a Union player making the move in the next few years.

Difficult choice

This Hakula Tonga programme has opened up an incredibly inviting opportunity for native Tongans so they can follow in the footsteps of their recent World Cup heroes.

But, many of those that participate in the programme are also eligible to represent New Zealand.

Whilst current eligibility rules enables such players as Titiuti to represent both nations, soon him and his fellow teammates will have to choose between the red or the black - a decision which stirred up rival Pacific passions ahead of the World Cup as the likes of Taumalolo and Hurrell chose the former. Whilst in the past, the Kiwis have undoubtedly benefitted from native Tongans choosing New Zealand, all this could change as more and more choose the red instead.

Necessary to capitalise

New Zealand's dismal display at the tournament and Tonga's incredibly impressive run changed the dynamics within the Pacific setup forever. No longer do Tongan kids want to be Shaun Johnson, instead, Jason Taumalolo is their hero. This new-found value of the Tongan jersey must be taken advantage of; Tonga needs to build, more games need to be organised so that the momentum is not lost.

The 2018 Pacific Test Invitational will be the next time traditional rivals Tonga and Samoa face off, but, what all native Tongans - and most of the world - want to see is Tonga do battle with the Kiwis once more. Younger generations were awe-struck with Tonga's ability to not only challenge, but to beat, one of the world's best at the World Cup.

To continue the current bandwagon, Tonga need to come up against the so-called "tier one" nations (England, Australia and New Zealand) more frequently. Then, even more up-and-coming talent will follow the likes of Sila Titiuti and Konrad Hurrell, not just in joining Rugby League from Union, but also in rejecting the once sacred All Blacks' jersey for the red of Tonga.