Mate Ma'a Tonga players have targeted winning the 2021 World Cup and believe the island kingdom can become the game's No.1 nation with regular Tests against tier-one countries.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf told his players after Saturday night's 34-16 loss to Australia that they had shown what the team was capable of at stages of the game and needed to overcome their poor starts against the Kangaroos and England in last year's World Cup semi-final in order to beat the top nations.
Woolf also advised his players that Tonga would be playing New Zealand on June 22 and discussions were underway for end-of-season Tests against Australia, Great Britain Lions and Samoa.
The goal is for the team to stay together and continue improving before launching an assault on the 2021 World Cup.
"We are pretty confident that we can become the best team in the world," forward Siosiua Taukeiaho told NRL.com.
"There is a lot of work to do but if we continue on and keep building every year, and get more games against tier-one teams the next couple of years we should go a long way."
Taukeiaho said there were younger players coming through the NRL ranks who could strengthen the Mate Ma'a Tonga team in coming years such as Brisbane forward David Fifita.
"I think we have got a good crew here and I think there are a lot of good young Tongan players coming up too," he said. "There's also David Fifita at Brisbane and some other young guys coming up. If we can get them on board for the next World Cup hopefully we will have a strong team."
Tonga have now played the three tier-one nations in the past 12 months, downing the Kiwis 28-22, suffering a controversial 20-18 defeat by England and outscoring the Kangaroos in the second half after conceding 30 points in a nervous first half.
The World Cup success saw Tonga rise in the RLIF rankings to No.4 and Woolf said his players had proven that they can compete with any team in the world.
"There's no doubt at all we have," he said. "We have played three - we've won one, lost one by two points and while at times tonight Australia were dominant, we had plenty of opportunities to make that scoreline closer. That's not a terrible result. It shows we're very competitive."
Taukeiaho was arguably Tonga's best player, running a game-high 178 metres in 20 carries of the ball. The Sydney Roosters star was one of six Tonga forwards to run more than 100 metres, while prop David Klemmer (110m) was the only Australian to do so.
He said the players had been disappointed with their first-half performance but were determined to do better after the interval.
"We came back in the sheds and we knew exactly what we are capable of doing, and that is to attack them," Taukeiaho said. "That is pretty much what we did the first 15-to-20 minutes.
"They were too good for us tonight but I think we will learn our lesson and keep building the next couple of years. We have got a lot of talented players from one wing to another and we are skilful enough to play against a team like Australia.
"We have got New Zealand mid-year so that is going to be another cracking game, then hopefully Australia and England at the end of year. The more games we get against tier-one teams the more confident we will get."
Woolf said he was proud of how the team had responded after trailing 30-10 at halftime.
"We showed that if we can control the footy we are certainly very dangers and we showed that we can score points against the best defensive team in the world and we showed that we can defend as well."