Samoa flex muscles, too good for Tonga

Samoa Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2008Samoa were on the board early after only 2 minutes in their grudge match against arch rivals Tonga. A nervous Tonga turned the ball over on their first use and gave their opponents first sniff through Francis Meli who was on the end of a left hand movement that featured quick hands from Dave Solomona and George Carmont. Ben Roberts unsuccessful conversion attempt gave Samoa a 4-0 lead.

Tonga rose to the challenge and hammered the Samoan line, but the commitment of both sides was evident in their defence and Samoa set the tone for the night early on by repelling waves of opposition attack.

When Nigel Vagana latched on to an intercept and raced 90 metres in the eighth minute he not only scored a crucial try but also recorded the defining moment of the game. He also gave a reminder of why he was one rated the best centre in the game.

As Vagana touched down a desperate lunge by Cooper Vuna almost denied him the try but it was that sort of night for the Tongans – always trying to catch up or cover mistakes and though they gave their all it was not quite enough on this occasion.

Tonga’s efforts reaped some reward when Tony Williams set up a try for Vuna soon after, and Williams’ conversion made it 10-6. Vagana looked to have extended the lead for Samoa immediately afterwards but video referee Steve Clarke spotted a knock-on.

Two minutes later Tevita Leo-Latu, who was busy all night, surged out of dummy half to score and Tony Williams conversion had Tonga in front at 12-10 and the crowd of over 12,000 were already hoarse.

This proved to be the crucial period of the game and while both teams had chances before half time it was Samoa who converted one of the opportunities when a passing rush to the right near the Tongan line saw Willie Talau put Matt Utai over for a try – given on the benefit of the doubt after being referred upstairs.

Samoa’s 14-12 may have shocked some but they drew strength from the late try and survived the arm wrestle that was the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Fifteen minutes after the resumption Solomona conjured a try for Carmont to put Samoa beyond arms’ reach after Roberts’ conversion.

That made the score 20-12, and there it would stay despite a plethora of opportunities and mistakes, occasionally blow ups, some unbelievable defence from both sides and a commitment that went above and beyond the call. For both teams, this was no ordinary game.

Nominating best players from such a game is like trying to pick your favourite song: Samoa were best served by Vagana, the effervescent Terence Seuseu, Smith Samau and a non-stop pack of forwards headed by local Tony Puletua. Lopini Paea, Tevita Leo-Latu and Michael Jennings were best for Tonga in what was ultimately a great game, a marvellous spectacle and possible pointer to the future for international Rugby League.

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