A country consisting of 169 islands of which only 36 are inhabited and with a population of just over 100,000 people can hold their heads high after an incredible rugby league world cup campaign.
The Tongan national rugby league side has gone down fighting in an 18-20 loss to England on Saturday night after the most successful run in the nation’s history at the rugby league world cup.
The English team had come out firing as it appeared to Tongan team were still celebrating what was already a history-making run as they took a 12-0 lead after only 16 minutes of play thanks to tries from McGillvary and Widdop.
The Tongan national team came close on a few occasions but were unable to add anything to the scoreboard before the half-time break. It wasn’t long after the break before the English put another score on the board with as Widdop put through a penalty on 49 minutes.
The pressure from England was mounting and the Tongan’s appeared to have nothing left as the English went over again for a 67th minute try that seemed to all but end the contest.
However, the Tongan’s seemed to find something in the tank and with only 6 minutes to go got over the line for their first score of the match. Minutes later they have gone over another 2 times and were seemingly in with a chance as the score was now 18-20.
In the final seconds Andrew Fifita had the ball stripped only to regather and score what he believed to be the winning try.
Controversy struck as the match referee determined Fifita to have knocked the ball forward and England were through to their first world cup final since 1995. It ended an incredible run by the smallest nation in the rugby league world cup and one that their players and fans are extremely proud of.
Many of the experts believe that it was in fact not a penalty and Tonga should’ve been awarded the try. Regardless, the match referee should’ve gone to the video referee to check it at such a crucial stage in the match – a result-defining moment.
Laurie Daley, an Australian rugby league legend said that he felt the wrong decision had been made and that “You have to refer to it [the video referee]. That’s cost Tonga a final”
Despite going down on Saturday night, the Tongan supporters could be seen celebrating throughout Australia in light of the achievement of the national team. The success of the rugby league side at this years world cup was cause for celebration and it was clear that the semi-final loss did not deter them.
Speaking to Fifita after the game, he said, “I’m just happy to be a part of this team” and went on to say that he had no regrets choosing to represent his native Tonga as opposed to the Australian team now in the final this coming Saturday.
Fifita had been at the heart of a controversy involving a number of Australian players choosing to represent their native pacific nations despite being called up to the Australian rugby league world cup squad. However, in light on Australia’s success, Fifita believes that the success that Tonga has had at this world cup is bigger than anything that he could’ve hoped for.