Tongan players and staff have called for a new governing body to control the game in the island Kingdom as Jason Taumalolo and other stars arrive for celebrations after their historic Test defeats of Australia and Great Britain.
With a public holiday having been declared for Friday in honour of the team, Tauamolo flew into Nuku'alofa at 2.45am Thursday along with former captain Sika Manu and team-mates Will Hopoate, Ata Hingano, John Asiata, Tesi Niu and Kotoni Staggs, who met his father for the first time.
Other players, including Andrew Fifita, Konrad Hurrell and Siliva Havili, have also arrived and each have received a hero's welcome after the Tonga Invitational XIII confirmed the Pacific nation would be genuine contenders for the 2021 World Cup by beating the game's two top international teams.
The players are guests of King Tupou VI and will be honoured with a street parade on Friday.
Fans have turned out to greet the players at the airport, while their names have been printed on the side of cars – most of which have Tongan flags flying from windows as they drive around honking horns.
The famous victories came despite a fracture between the team and the Tonga National Rugby League hierarchy, which almost ended in the two Tests being cancelled after coach Kristian Woolf was sacked and the players refused to play.
The Tests only went ahead after the IRL suspended the TNRL and asked Woolf to take charge of the team, which was forced to play as the Tonga Kau Toa (Tonga Invitational XIII) after court action prevented the new Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League from being involved.
Woolf, who has commenced his new job as coach of Super League champions St Helens, said the clear path to success for Tonga at the 2021 World Cup was for a new governing body to be appointed, while Taumalolo said the players would again refuse to play under the previous administration.
"The players are so happy to return to Tonga to celebrate with those that they have always been intent on representing – the wonderful people of Tonga," Woolf said.
"The TNRL representatives have had nothing to do with the Tests against the Great Britain and Australian Kangaroos teams, and nothing to do with the success of the Tonga Invitational XIII in those matches.
"They also have nothing to do with the players returning for a celebration of success with the Tongan people.
"As a group we want to underline that what Tongan rugby league needs now is governance reform. We have now exhibited our potential on the world stage, and to reach that full potential we need new governance.
"If we want to reach our full potential at the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England – which is to win that tournament – we must have that reform now."
Taumalolo re-affirmed the stance of the players and also called for new leadership of the game in Tonga.
"We will not reconcile nor play under the current board members," Taumalolo said.
"The attempts to publicly discredit the players and the staff of the group that represented the Tonga Invitational XIII means that is out of the question."