tmedia
Skip to main content
Main content
Homepage

[RLWC2017] Tonga's watershed moment

Corey Rosser, nrl.com | Image: www.photosport.nz

Forget about it just being its best result on a rugby league field, Tonga's 28-22 RLWC win over New Zealand on Saturday is being hailed as the greatest moment in the history of Tongan sport.  

The watershed victory at Waikato Stadium saw Tonga produce a brilliant second half to reverse a 2-16 deficit at the break and become the first tier-two nation ever to beat a top-three side.

Post-match coach Kristian Woolf said the achievement would forever hold a place in Tongan sporting folklore.

"I think it's got to be the greatest... I don't think Tonga as a nation in any way has ever been on the front and back page of the biggest Sydney and Brisbane newspapers," Woolf said.

"It certainly made world news and to their credit these guys have been able to keep that going.

"We have got to enjoy this feeling and what's out there."

The victory over New Zealand means Tonga will play its quarter-final against Lebanon in Christchurch, and crucially it also ensures it will avoid the same side of the draw as reigning world champion Australia.

Should it get past Lebanon, Tonga will now play its semi-final in Auckland, a huge advantage given its loyal following in New Zealand where its two previous games have attracted near capacity crowds.

Woolf said there was full belief his side could go all the way to the World Cup final.

"Look, I'm not going to sit here and say no," Woolf said, when asked if his team could go all the way.

"We've just beaten a tier-one nation.

"[But] Australia's a whole different beast. They've won so many internationals because of the way they play and the way they just suffocate you. We've got a long, long way before we play them. We've got to worry about Lebanon next week, then we've got to worry about what happens after that as well."

Meanwhile Tonga captain Sika Manu explained the decision to advance on the New Zealand haka, resulting in several players facing off prior to kick-off. 

"When you do the hHaka you are supposed to stay on your side of the half. They crossed halfway so we retaliated by stepping forward," Manu said.

"We all saw them cross the hallway line so took a step forward. We were face-to-face for the end of the haka.

"They crossed the line first, so we had to step up and hold our ground."

Led by a David Fusitu'a hat-trick and standoff Tuimoala Lolohea's brilliance, who had a hand in two tries and scored one himself, Tonga ran in five second-half tries to simultaneously assure itself of topping Pool B and shocking the rugby league world.

New Zealand had sat on a comfortable 16-2 lead at the break thanks to tries from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and looked well in control, but it was no match for Tonga's power, speed and passion through the second period.

Clinging to a 24-22 lead with three minutes to go, Fusitu'a sealed the famous result with a try in the corner, sending the 24,041-strong crowd into mayhem.

Earlier Tonga had opted to take the two points via an early penalty and maintained the lead until the 20th minute when Watene-Zelezniak scored his first Test try, before Rapana touched down on the opposite side of the field.

Inside the final five minutes of the half Tonga had a would-be try to Daniel Tupou called back by referee Gerard Sutton, and instead the Kiwis went down the other end to grab their third via Tuivasa-Sheck.

Trailing by 14 points, Tonga made a strong start to the second half, and after several sets inside the opposition 20 it got its reward, with Fusitu'a leaping high to claim a Lolohea bomb which made it 16-6.

Three tries in the space of six minutes saw Tonga storm out to a 24-16 lead with 15 minutes to go, as Fusitu'a grabbed his second off a clever Konrad Hurrell flick pass, before Lolohea picked off Russell Packer's pass for an untouched run to the line.

When Ben Murdoch-Masila palmed his way through and found Will Hopoate looming in support, Tonga was in control and the Kiwis looked dumfounded but gave itself some hope when Tuivasa-Sheck reduced the gap to two points with eight minutes to go.

But Tonga wasn't to be denied, with Fusitu'a's try three minutes from time confirming the result and booking it a quarter-finals match against Lebanon next week.

 

MATCH DETAILS

FMG Waikato Stadium, Hamilton

Mate Ma'a Tonga 28 (David Fusitu'a 3, Tuimoala Lolohea, Will Hopoate tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 3 conversions; Tuimoala Lolohea conversion).

New Zealand Kiwis 22 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).

Halftime: 16-2 Kiwis.

Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia).

Crowd: 24,041.

 

Led by a David Fusitu'a hat-trick and the brilliance of five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea, who had a hand in two tries and scored one himself, Tonga ran in five second-half tries to simultaneously assure themselves of topping Pool B and shocking the rugby league world.

New Zealand had sat on a comfortable 16-2 lead at the break thanks to tries from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and looked well in control, but were no match for Tonga's power, speed and passion through the second period.

Clinging to a 24-22 lead with three minutes to go, Fusitu'a sealed the famous result with a try in the corner, sending the 24,041-strong crowd into mayhem.

Earlier Tonga had opted to take the two points via an early penalty and maintained the lead until the 20th minute when Watene-Zelezniak scored his first Test try, before Rapana touched down on the opposite side of the field.

Inside the final five minutes of the half Tonga had a would-be try to Daniel Tupou called back by referee Gerard Sutton, and instead the Kiwis went down the other end to grab their third via Tuivasa-Sheck.

Trailing by 14 points, Tonga made a strong start to the second half, and after several sets inside the opposition 20 they got their reward, with Fusitu'a leaping high to claim a Lolohea bomb which made it 16-6.

Three tries in the space of six minutes saw Tonga storm out to a 24-16 lead with 15 minutes to go, as Fusitu'a grabbed his second off a clever Konrad Hurrell flick pass, before Lolohea picked off Russell Packer's pass for an untouched run to the line.

When Ben Murdoch-Masila palmed his way through and found Will Hopoate looming in support, Tonga were in control and the Kiwis looked dumfounded, but gave themselves some hope when Tuivasa-Sheck reduced the gap to two points with eight minutes to go.

But Tonga weren't to be denied, with Fusitu'a's try three minutes from time confirming the result and booking them a quarter-finals match against Lebanon next week.

Tonga 28 (David Fusitu'a 3, Tuimoala Lolohea, Will Hopoate tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 3, Tuimoala Lolohea 1 goals) def. New Zealand 22 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck x2 tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) at Waikato Stadium. HT: 2-16. Crowd: 24,041.