Tonga stun Kangaroos

Tongan players celebrate their histoic win over Australia in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
Tongan players celebrate their histoic win over Australia in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
Tonga 16
Australia 12

Unbelievable. Forget about State of Origin. Forget about the NRL Grand Final.

This was the best league spectacle of 2019, and it is hard to recall too many better over the last few years.

To paraphrase Jon Landau, I've seen the future of international rugby league, and it's all red.

Tonga and the Kangaroos met in a match of epic proportions on Saturday night, with the Island nation managing the greatest result in their history, upsetting the Kangaroos 16-12 after a titanic struggle.

It was sporting theatre at its finest.

Blood and thunder, tension and a level of physicality almost impossible to describe.

And it might even be the start of a new world order. Surely Tonga can only get better?

The Island nation took the lead with 27 minutes to play, and then lifted to another level. Then another level.

While their players created havoc on the field, the crowd of 25,575 mixed the singing of church hymms with raucous applause of every play.
Earlier Tonga had made a ferocious start, after the typically intense Sipi Tau. They tore into their work, running with tremendous venom and hitting hard, a forceful red wave against the men in green and gold.

It was a marked difference to last year at Mt Smart, where Tonga fumbled and stumbled their way to an early deficit. Australia led 12-0 after 10 minutes, and the game was over at halftime as the Kangaroos held a 30-10 advantage.

Fortunately tonight, was different, very different. Tonga dominated the first 20 minutes, and made their intentions clear early on, with Michael Jennings flattened Nick Cotric from a kick return.

After a sustained period of pressure, wing David Fusitu'a was over in the corner, but the move was called back for a forward pass.

But it was only a matter of time, as the Kangaroos struggled to match the intensity, and Tonga got their reward in the 21st minute. A typically bulldozing run from Jason Taumalolo created havoc near the try line, and Will Hopoate scurried over from dummy half.

That sent the Tongan crowd into delirium, but the Kangaroos, as they do, steadily worked their way back into the game.

Just like he did last week against the Kiwis, Payne Haas changed the game when he came on. The Broncos' forward provided great impetus, and his change of angle set up Jack Wighton to slice back near the posts.

When Paul Vaughan scored four minute later Tongan hearts started to sink, as their team seemed to tire. But they did well to hang on until half time, then exploded after the break.
Latrell Mitchell was smashed twice, with the second surely one of biggest tackles seen at Eden Park, as Joe Ofahengaue almost cut him in half.

Tonga were playing with wonderful abandon, and incredible ferocity, and it paid dividends.

Kotoni Staggs was held up over the line, but Michael Jennings crossed on the next set to tie up the scores.

If that set a new record for decibel levels on the night, there was more to come, when Tevita Pangai Junior powered over off a clever Sione Katoa pass in the 53rd minute.

Staggs missed a penalty, before Cameron Munster was grounded two metres short of the line. James Tedesco was someone stopped, and Australia had been beaten for the first time by a tier two nation.

Tonga Invitational XIII 16 (W Hopoate, M Jennings, T Pangai Junior tries; K Staggs 2 goals)
Australia 12 (J Wighton, P Vaughan tries; L Mitchell 2 goals)
Halftime: 12-6

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