Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Tonga's big win a bigger hit for game

Tonga's Brent Kite rumbles up the park. Photo / Getty Images
Tonga's Brent Kite rumbles up the park. Photo / Getty Images

Tonga 36
Samoa 4

In the unlikely setting of Penrith last night, we may have witnessed a rebirth in international rugby league.

Tonga overcame the recent domination of Samoa (they hadn't beaten their neighbours since 2006) in an entertaining game but this was much more than one match.

With this fixture hopefully set for the next few years, both these nations will only improve. Remember, league barely existed in union-mad Tonga as little as five years ago.

There are more Polynesians than ever in the NRL (an estimated 30 per cent of the NRL and almost 40 per cent of the Holden Cup). Now, with league's sensible eligibility rules, which allow one switch during each four-year World Cup cycle, it is likely these players could see Tonga or Samoa as viable options and not just in World Cup year. With the continuing development of Papua New Guinea, international league could have a genuine second tier.

Last night was old-time rugby league. Just one referee, no video referrals and no golden point. There were ferocious tackles, as players hit the line with little regard for self-preservation in front of a vocal crowd of 10,000 that included injured Manly star Steve Matai.

Little moments were memorable, be it hulking prop Jeff Lima putting in the first chip kick of his career or 110kg Sika Manu's cameo as the world's biggest halfback.

After both teams had traded epic hakas, both stretching for almost two minutes, the red shirts of Tonga made the better start. Five eighth Samisoni Langi powered over in the fifth minute before former Junior Warriors star Siuatonga Likiliki doubled the lead five minutes later.

The Tongan back row was as good as you would see in any international side - former Kiwi Sika Manu, former Kangaroo Anthony Tupou and teenage tyro Jason Taumalolo.

Taumalolo was particularly effective and must have gone close to the Kiwis 17 - surely he would have been a revelation at the World Cup. Samoa finally opened their account through Daniel Vidot, after Carlos Tuimavave produced a peach of a pass for the winger.

Tries from Tongan wingers Etuate Uaisele and Mahe Fohua put the game out of reach in the second half, prompting a Tongan fan to plant their national flag on the field.

Likiliki, who has made only three appearances at the Knights, was reminiscent of Olsen Filipaina as he starred in the match. Fuifui Moimoi carried for 100m in the first half alone. A pitch invasion by hundreds of fans meant the match was called off a minute early but that didn't detract from the spectacle.

Tonga 36 (S. Langi 2, E. Uaisele, M. Fohua 2, S. Likiliki 2 tries; S. Langi 4 goals) Samoa 4 (D. Vidot try). Halftime: 10-4.


- Herald on Sunday

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