Tonga have turned the tables in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, grabbing a historic win over New Zealand 28-22 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. The stands were filled with Tongan supporters, as their beloved nation pulled off a huge win against their big brothers. The win means Tonga will top Group B, while New Zealand will finish second.
Tonga create a bit of history… again
Game one against Scotland saw Tonga put up the most first half points by any side in the history of the tournament, while game two against Samoa saw Tonga make the quarter-finals for the first time ever at the Rugby League World Cup. Game three, Tonga not only took down a tier one nation, they managed to top their group and avoid taking on another top-tier side until the semi-finals. Tonga will go up against Lebanon in the quarter-finals, a game they will be heavily favoured to win. While the loss for the Kiwis means they will be forced to do battle with the Kangaroos in the semi-finals, assuming both sides make it to that stage.
Kiwis their own worst enemy
14 errors by the Kiwis contributed to their unimpressive completion percentage, with only 68 percent compared to Tonga’s solid 86 percent. Jordan Rapana bombed a try opportunity in the 13th minute when he dropped the ball close to the line. In the 25th minute, Danny Levi also went agonisingly close, until he lost the ball over the line. Defensive decisions in the second half also contributed to Tonga’s fightback and the Kiwis’ demise, with Dallin Watene-Zelesniak’s decision not to contest a bomb kick allowed David Fusitu’a to score in the 48th minute, as well as Kodi Nikorima making a costly defensive decision to allow Fusitu’a to score again in the 59th minute
Tongan halves continue to rise
The forward pack of Tonga, something I have religiously said, has been and will be their strongest attribute of this tournament. But in what was arguably the biggest game in the national team’s history, the halves combination stood out. The kicking game of Tuimoala Lolohea and Ata Hingano has continued to improve in this tournament and against the Kiwis, they eclipsed the kicking game of the opposition with 330 metres compared to New Zealand’s 138. Lolohea in particular set up Tonga’s first score of the second half with a perfectly placed bomb kick, as well as picking off a pass from Russell Packer to score the try that put Tonga into the lead in the 62nd minute.
Kidwell clinging to his job now
After only managing three wins from nine games, Dave Kidwell will be in the hot seat at the conclusion of the World Cup, assuming the Kiwis fail to win the tournament. Taking over from Stephen Kearney was never a tough task, considering Kearney’s skills as a head coach have been questioned due to his stints with NRL sides. Nevertheless looking at Kearney’s record as New Zealand’s coach and comparing it to Kidwell’s, the idea about keeping Kidwell in charge seems odd. A draw with Scotland last year, and now a loss to Tonga are two things he will would want to leave off his CV, and with those in mind his job security will be at risk.
Mate Ma’a Tonga: 28
Tries: Fusitu’a (3) (48m, 59m, 77m), Lolohea (62m), Hopoate (65m)
Goals: Lolohea 1/2, Taukeiaho 3/4
New Zealand Kiwis: 22
Tries: Tuivasa-Sheck (2) (39m, 72m) Watene-Zelesniak (20m), Rapana (28m)
Goals: Johnson 3/4