The Australia Kangaroos down a spirited Mate Ma’a Tonga team 34-16 in a historic first-ever Test match at Mt Smart Stadium.
A phenomenal atmosphere with singing had this fixture lively and loud all night. Completions were high early but a tip on by Tonga went begging with Daly Cherry-Evans pouncing and breaking away for the opening try in the 5th minute. With penalties mounting Australia found luck down their right edge with DCE running the ball to link with Tom Trbojevic and Dane Gagai busting through for a Trbojevic try and a 12-0 lead in the 11th minute. A seven-tackle set allowed Tonga to march up the field to see Tevita Pangai Jr take the line on from a pop-up pass by half Ata Hingano in the 17th min to trail 12-6.
Australia raided their right side before a long line up of passing all the way to the left found Valentine Holmes to cut back and score under the post for 16-6. Moments later DCE ran the ball again to have his outside backs combine for Tom Trbojevic to get a double at 22-6. A ruck penalty followed by dubious pass out to the left with a flick through to Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou to score in the corner for Tonga before a late penalty try to Holmes put the Australians up 30-10.
Repetitive sets were crucial for Tonga, with four consecutive sets on the Kangaroos line until the shackles broke and centre Solomone Kata found the line, cutting back inside defence to make it a 16-point deficit. There was back-and-forth footy with many errors for each side but Australia’s defence allowed them to frustrate Tonga, while being burnt for speed on the outside by Tedesco who charged at the line and scored in the 63rd min to lead 34-16. Kick placement and massive defensive reads allowed the Kangaroos to hold the win against the ever-growing Tongans.
AUSTRALIA WEATHER THE TONGANS
In a landmark night, the Australia Kangaroos withstood a sold out crowd, filled with Tongan supporters in the first-ever meeting for the sides. The Kangaroos were polished with their attack to allow them to put the pressure on their opposition with a twenty-point lead at halftime; they sustained the pressure from the Mate Ma’a (who won the second half 6-4) but the Aussies’ resilient defence helped them hang on and win their first ever match against Tonga.
Tremendous defence by the Kangaroos was tested against a huge Tonga forward pack, defending their line for seven dropouts across the match. It was a scrambling defence that was able to withstand Tonga all night, with Australia making over 120 more tackles, which allowed them to frustrate their opponents.
A crafty left side shift of the ball by the Kangaroos allowed winger Valentine Holmes to come off his wing, back inside lazy Tongan defence to score in the 40th min. The try was originally awarded, however contact made on Holmes’ head while on the ground was deemed dangerous with Pangai Jnr covering across and accidentally clipping him. It was seen as a weird call as it was fine in real time – with no intent by Tevita – but with the contact up high, it allowed Holmes to take two kicks; he missed the first out wide and kicked the other, allowing the Aussies to go 20 points ahead at halftime.
TONGA’S EXPLOSIVE TRIO
A new tier one nation in rugby league internationals, Tonga has one of the most lethal trio of forwards in Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Pangai Jr. A try to Pangai Jr was excellent, finding a large gap to secure points, but it was the run metres that was impressive with all three making over 110 metres – an onslaught for the Kangaroos to handle. The future is bright with these big men leading their outfit forward with other sides looking over their shoulders for the prospect of containing them when in form.
Tries: Cherry-Evans, T.Trbojevic (2), Holmes (2), Tedesco
Goals: Holmes 5/7
Tries: Pangai Jr, Tupou, Kata
Goals: Taukeiaho 1/2, Lolohea 1/1
1. James Tedesco, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. Tom Trbojevic, 4. Latrell Mitchell, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Boyd Cordner (C), 12. Felise Kaufusi, 13. Josh McGuire.
Interchange: 14. Ben Hunt, 15. Jake Trbojevic, 16. Tyson Frizell, 17 Aaron Woods
1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. David Fusitu’a, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Siosua Taukaiaho, 11. Tevita Pangai Jr, 12. Sika Manu, 13. Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14. Sione Katoa, 15. Addin Fonua-Blake, 16. Joe Ofahengaue, 21 Ben Murdoch-Masila