Tonga will take part in the Rugby League World Cup finals for the first time after a hard-fought 32-18 win over Samoa at a packed Waikato Stadium.
With their forward pack laying the platform for success, Tonga capitalised on sloppy Samoan attack to cross the line for five tries.
Despite their win, Tonga did face a nervous wait as Samoa made a late flurry with two tries in the last fifteen minutes but Kristian Woolf’s side held on for the victory.
Samoa’s loss means they now face a do-or-die clash against Scotland next week to make the finals.
Tonga started with the early running as they threw attack after attack at the Samoans and it paid off, as Michael Jennings scored the first of his two tries after 10 minutes.
Samoa responded quickly, however, as Jazz Tevaga burrowed his way over from close range to bring the scores level.
A try either side of half-time – Jennings’ second and a barnstorming run by Peni Terepo – gave the Tongans a comfortable buffer.
A further Samoan error resulted in a try to hulking forward Ben Murdoch-Masila as Samoa’s errors continued to cost them.
Samoa would score two late tries to Ben Roberts and Tim Lafai but any hopes of a comeback were snuffed out when Eels forward Manu Ma’u crossed for Tonga.
Samoan coach Matt Parish praised his side’s defence but admits that the errors at crucial times in attack are hurting his side badly.
“I thought our defence was really good, considering you can’t give teams that much ball inside your own 20,” Parish said.
“We made too many mistakes inside our own red zone. That was the only difference.
“Unfortunately, individual errors are killing us, killing us.”
With Samoa usually the ones that have the rub of the green over Tonga, Woolf admits it was nice to get a win over their Pacific Island rivals.
“[Saturday night was] about enjoying the win, we’ve only beaten Samoa once in the last 10 years and that was in 2013, so that was a long time ago as well and some of these blokes were part of that,” Woolf said.
“It’s about enjoying that, and letting our hair down a little bit, after a short turnaround which is always a tough week.
“I was pretty satisfied with all of it, to be honest, I thought we played some really good footy.”
Player of the Game:
3. Sio Siua Taukeiaho
2. Michael Jennings
- Peni Terepo
Tonga 32 (Michael Jennings 2, Peni Terepo, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Manu Ma’u tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 4 goals, Ata Hingano 2 goals) def. Samoa 18 (Jazz Tevaga, Ben Roberts, Tim Lafai tries; Tim Lafai 3 goals) at Waikato Stadium. HT: 14-6.