THE favourite to land the Saints head coach's position - Kristian Woolf - has been handed his notice by the Tonga National Rugby League.

Woolf, currently the acting head coach at Newcastle Knights following the departure of Nathan Brown, has been Tonga's national coach since 2014 and guided them to the World Cup semi-final in 2017.

They were the undoubted success story of that event after Woolf helped convince Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to pick Tonga over New Zealand and Australia.

That masterstroke led more players joining, forming a team that beat New Zealand in the group game and pushed England to within two points in a thrilling semi-final, with all games played before a sea of red.

However, the news of his departure has provoked unrest within the Tonga camp, with the Woolf popular with the players, and there have been boycott threats.

Tonga NRL issued a press release which read: "The Board of Directors unanimously decided to give notice to Kristian Woolf that his tenure as head coach comes to an end on September 5.

"The board has not taken this decision lightly, however, in the best interests of the Tonga NRL. the board has made that decision with a view to our future.

"With the results not being favourable to Tonga in 2018 and 2019, the board after consultation with interested third parties, decided that action had to be taken in view of building towards the World Cup in 2021.

"Although there is resistance to this change, the board felt it was necessary and it was due despite the six years tenure that Kristian Woolf has had with Mate Ma'a Tonga."

They went on to praise the impact that Woolf has had on the team - who were one of the game's huge success stories during the 2017 World Cup.

The statement added: "We acknowledge the significant contribution that Kristian Woolf and his coaching staff have made toward Mate Ma'a Tonga and the profound impact he has had on the team, on the players, on the game here in Tonga and on the people of Tonga. That will not be forgotten.

"However, we wish him well. especially on his recent coaching appointment of the St Helens Rugby League team in the English Super League."

However, the Star understands that Saints have not yet made an appointment for the position to replace Justin Holbrook and the process is still ongoing.

Garth Brennan with take over as Tonga's coach for the remaining games this season, including the tour game against Great Britain.