Toutai Kefu will lead fundraising efforts for tsunami-hit Tonga in Brisbane before setting his sights on an emotional Rugby World Cup push.
Kefu is himself recovering after a terrifying home invasion last August that left the former Wallabies great in hospital and his wife, son and daughter all injured.
He will continue as Tongan coach though and France’s 2023 World Cup has Kefu’s full attention.
The tiny South Pacific island nation must beat Hong Kong later this year to qualify, Kefu set to fly to Europe before that Test to meet with English and French-based players.
He described eligibility rule tweaks that will allow Tongan-born talents to represent their country three years after playing for another nation as a “game changer”.
It means former Wallabies and All Blacks Israel Folau, Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, George Moala, Augustine Pulu and Atu Moli could all feature in France.
“Tongans build their life around family and faith and things like this, for such a little nation, really bring the family together,” he said of how the tragedy had impacted the squad.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of players already and they’re really looking forward to playing for and representing Tonga.”
But first he’ll lend his expertise to a Tongan invitational side that will face the Vintage Reds in a Super Rugby Pacific curtain raiser on February 19 at Suncorp Stadium, before the Reds begin their season against the Melbourne Rebels.
Donations will be channelled to a direct impact, on-ground organisation assisting the recovery of Tongan homes and lives.
George Smith, Digby Ioane, Radike Samo, Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Nathan Sharpe, Chris Latham, James Horwill and Scott Higginbotham are some of the names tipped to lace up the boots.
Kefu was like many current Reds players, including Taniela Tupou, with relatives still living on the island fearing the worst.
“Tongan people are used to cyclones and volcanic eruptions; we’re a pretty resilient race,” Kefu said.
“But nonetheless, whenever something like that happens, there’s always concern for family members.”
Murray Wenzel | AAP
First published: https://thewest.com.au/sport/rugby-union/qld-reds-greats-in-tonga-charity-game-c-5519278