Tonga are well and truly living up to their pre-tournament hype as they created history with a 28-22 victory against New Zealand to finish top of Pool B.
The night belonged to David Fusitu’a who scored a second half hat-trick for the Mate Ma’a, who turned the game on its head in a stunning five-minute spell.
Trailing 16-6, Tonga scored three quick-fire tries as the game approached the final quarter and despite the Kiwis threatening to nick it at the end, Fusitu’a’s late score sealed the win.
The match was played in front of a sell-out crowd at Waikato Stadium and both sides raised the roof before the match with their traditional war cries.
If the hakas were tense then the opening stages of the game certainly matched that with both defences flying out of the line to close down any try-scoring opportunities.
The first points went to Tonga after seven minutes when they decided to go for goal from an early penalty, Sio Taukeiaho making no mistake to give them an early advantage.
It continued to be closely contested after this and the Kiwis posted the first four-pointer at the end of the first quarter as a flowing right-to-left move put Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over in the corner.
This sparked the hosts into life and they were scored again when Brad Takairangi put Jordan Rapana in with Shaun Johnson’s conversion making the score 10-2 after the half hour.
There was still time for David Kidwell’s side to cross again before half-time as Takairangi broke free of Mane Fonua’s tackle, before releasing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to extend the lead.
It was a vintage first half display from the Kiwis, with Johnson’s conversion giving them a 16-2 lead at the break.
Tonga started the second half well and they got back in the game when Tuimoala Lolohea kicked cross-field for David Fusitu’a to spectacularly leap above all before him and ground the ball.
The game then returned to its close-fought nature before an incredible five-minute spell saw the Mate Ma’a score three quick-fire tries and take control of the game.
Firstly, Konrad Hurrell set Fusitu’a away for his second try, Lolohea then took an intercept to race away under the posts and Will Hapoate completed the incredible few minutes, taking Ben Murdoch-Masila’s pass to send the Tongan faithful into raptures.
Taukeiaho made no mistake with the conversions, Tonga holding a 24-16 lead going into the final 10 minutes.
But this incredible game wasn’t done there and Tuivasa-Sheck produced a moment of individual brilliance as he evaded five Tongan defenders to score. Johnson’s conversion reducing the deficit to two with seven minutes to play.
Tonga weren’t to be denied the historic victory though as Hurrell again produced a fantastic pass to release Fusitu’a away for his hat-trick, the conversion was missed but it didn’t matter as the Mate Ma’a sealed the historic win.
Kiwis: Tuivasa-Sheck, Watene-Zelezniak, Whare, Takairangi, Rapana, Nikorima, Johnson, Taupau, Leuluai, Waera-Hargreaves, Mannering, Tapine, Blair. Interchange: Asofa-Solomona, Packer, Liu, Levi.
Tonga: Hopoate, Tupou, Fonua, Hurrell, Fusitu’a, Lolohea, Hingano, Fifita, Katoa, Taukeiaho, Ma’u, Manu, Taumalolo. Interchange: Havili, Terepo, Murdoch-Masila, Pangai Junior.
Credit: NRL Photos