WARRIORS star Feleti Mateo has apologised to Tonga before tabling an impassioned defence of his decision to make himself eligible for NSW and Australia.
With all the focus on James Tamou this week, the selection of the Tongan captain for City has slipped under the radar. Mateo, 26, was granted special dispensation to represent Sydney against Country in 2008 and still turn out for Tonga in the World Cup later that year.
But the Auburn-born Mateo has now committed himself completely to Australia.
“I guess I just felt like I deserve it,” Mateo tells Rugby League Week.
“It was a hard decision to not play for Tonga – especially in the World Cup – but I feel like this is my time and I have to take it while it’s there.”
Mateo would have soon qualified for New Zealand on residency grounds, saying: “It was always an option but I never thought about it. It was Australia or Tonga. Being born in Australia, growing up there, watching Origin, I wanted to play it. That’s what I wanted to do.
“Probably in the past I wasn’t of that calibre to play it, just going on last year.
“This year, with my form, I thought it was probably time to change my allegiance and try and put my best foot forward and try and make it. Last year, at this point in the season, we’d lost three in a row to start the year and I probably wasn’t playing very good either.
“Since then, I’ve worked hard and hopefully I can play good again on Sunday and put my hand up for Origin.”
Tonga believes he should be allowed to return to the Tongan side if he misses out on Australian selection for the 2013 World Cup.
“I can’t (go back) – for now. If things happen and I don’t get a look-in for Australia and Origin, I’ll be asking if there’s something that can allow me to go back to Tonga.
“I think I’ve opened the door for a lot of boys who don’t get picked for their first choice country. The fans want to see the best players play and come World Cup time, the only way to make it as big as it can be is to have the best players playing.
“I spoke to the coach Charlie Tonga and told him wherever I can help, I’ll always put my hand up for Tonga. They’ve done a lot for me over the years and every time I put on the jersey it was one of my proudest moments. I’ll be there rooting for the boys come World Cup.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK