New Zealand v Tonga. Tonga v Samoa.
Now we have another match to add to those two, two which provided hugely entertaining matches in the midst of an electric atmosphere – this morning’s RLWC semi final between England and Tonga, a match that England won despite nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The first half, however, showed no indication of the drama that was to follow. After just sixteen minutes, England were two converted tries to the good thanks to Golden Boot nominee Jermaine McGillvary and full back Gareth Widdop, giving the slight favourites a 12-0 half time lead. That lead was pushed to 14-0 thanks to another Widdop goal which was swiftly followed by the much maligned John Bateman crossing over on the left hand side to, after the conversion, give his team a 20-0 lead with thirteen minutes left – surely, therefore, closing down any chance the Tongans had of reaching a maiden RLWC final.
However, one thing that can be noted from this tournament is the ability of the Pacific Islanders to fight and never quit – an ability that was exemplified with one of the best spells of rugby league you could wish to see. 20 points down with eight minutes left, tries from Tevita Pangai Junior, Siliva Havili and excellent half back Tuimoala Lolohea put Tonga just two points behind with two minutes remaining – three tries in five minutes well and truly had England reeling. It could have got much more embarrassing for Wayne Bennett’s men had Andrew Fifita got over with seconds left on the clock and, perhaps, even then referee Matt Cecchin could have utilised the video referee to see if the massive foward was stripped of the ball as opposed to knocking it on – the latter being the decision given by the Aussie official which signalled the end of a pulsating semi final and, with it, Tonga’s Cinderella story of a tournament.
As it is, Bennett and his England team have set up an Ashes final to accompany the cricket test series and, with it, will head to Brisbane next weekend for a grudge match against coaching adversary Mal Meninga – two men who have made no bones about disliking each other. Beginning with the now England coach blasting the Australian Rugby League when he lost out to Meninga for the honour of coaching his national team two years ago, his Aussie counterpart fired back accusing Bennett of undermining him, slamming the so-called ‘super coach’ as “no friend of mine.”
That, however, will be just a sideshow as England and Australia face off in the former’s first RLWC final in 22 years having delivered arguably their most complete performance – or 70 minutes – in order to reach the showpiece event after an incredible match at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium in front of over 30,000 fans with next weekend’s final at the Suncorp Stadium set to provide yet another gripping contest between the best two teams in the world.