League: Samoa downs Tonga 20-12

Samoa took a big step toward the rugby league World Cup semi-finals with a dogged 20-12 win over arch rival Tonga in their island derby at Penrith tonight.

Samoa will clinch their pool if they beat Ireland in the last pool match at Parramatta next Wednesday.

Tonight's clash featured plenty of rugged defence and jarring hits, plus occasional high tackle.

And when it was over, hundreds of excited Samoa fans charged onto the pitch to celebrate.

While it wasn't the spiteful battle some pundits had forecast, Australian referee Shayne Hayne still had his work cut out.

He placed two players on report: Samoan prop Kylie Leulua'i for a high tackle on Tongan fullback Fetuli Talanoa in the first half.

After the break, Hayne placed Tongan centre Etu Uaisele on report for a dangerous tackle on Samoan fullback Smith Samau, who was picked up and driven into the ground.

Samoa grabbed initiative early, with winger Francis Meli crossing in the third minute.

And they bolted to a 10-0 advantage in the 11th minute, when skipper Nigel Vagana picked off a pass from Tongan hooker Tevita Leo-Latu and sprinted 90m for a try converted by Ben Roberts.

Tonga surged back into the game when classy centre Michael Jennings charged onto a brilliant flick pass from Tony Williams. The conversion cut the deficit to four points.

Vagana missed a glorious opportunity for another try when he dropped the ball over the line in what effectively became a 12 point turnaround.

Just a couple of minutes later Leo-Latu burst out of dummy half to set up a 12-10 Tongan lead.

Bulldogs NRL star Matt Utai weaved over in the right hand corner to give Samoa a 14-10 halftime lead.

But it was virtually one way traffic in the second half, with Samoa dominating possession against an outfit clearly still fatigued from last Monday's win over Ireland.

Samoa extended their lead with a brilliant try to centre George Carmont, who capitalised on some sensational lead-up work by forwards David Solomona and Lagi Setu.

The dominant Samoans had potential tries to Carmont and Ben Roberts rubbed out, but continued to monopolise possession until the closing minutes.

Tonga was further hampered by an apparent groin injury to halfback Willie Manu.







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