Oh, what a night. The history books will show that Tonga beat Samoa 32-18, to stop a run of defeats against their Pacific neighbor and set up a huge match next week against the Kiwis.

But the bare facts don't begin to sum up the occasion.

If this wasn't the best atmosphere at a league match in New Zealand this century, then it must have been close. Hamilton hasn't seen this much excitement since...well probably ever. But that's not a slight on the city of cow bells and car dealers.

Atmosphere and tribalism like this just doesn't usually exist in New Zealand, among stoic, fairly serious Kiwis. But tonight a good portion of Apia and Nukualofa journeyed into the Waikato and this was the result.

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Games like this make you wonder why the NRL - and the International Rugby League Federation - haven't done more for Pacific league, but that's another story. Tonight was brutal, barn-storming and beautiful.

There was the unique sight of a combined prayer before the match - as the two teams gathered together in a large circle - then the incredible sight of the Siva Tau and Sipi Tau performed simultaneously.

Some of the hits left you wincing in your seats, as the players ran from the back fence without fear. The action - and the occasion - whipped the 18,000 strong crowd into a frenzy, with a constant buzz of noise, cheers, chants and singing.

Tonga ran out deserved winners, with their organisation proving the difference across two well matched forward packs. They'll provide a strong contest for the Kiwis, and will get better across the tournament, especially as Tui Lolohea and Ata Hingano gain the confidence to work with the big names around them.

Sio Siua Taukieaho was outstanding for Tonga, with more than 250 running metres, while fellow Kiwis defector Jason Taumalolo produced plenty of his trademark charges.

Michael Jennings grabbed two first half tries, both from well directed bombs that exposed Ken Maumalo under the high ball, though the second was a touch fortunate as it appeared to be a knock on. Jazz Tevaga replied for Samoa - somehow diving over despite the presence of three giants. Joey Leilua also went close, held up over the line after making a 70 metre break earlier in the set.

Samoa continued to be their own worst enemies early in the second half, and a series of mistakes were eventually punished by Peni Terepo's determined try in the 51st minute.

After more sustained Tongan pressure - initiated from another Samoan error - 115 kg Salford prop Ben Murdoch Masila smashed his way over from 10 metres out, off a well-timed Ata Hingano pass which looked to have sealed the match.

But Samoa never gave up. Ben Roberts gave them hope with a 65th minute try, running off a perfect Junior Paulo offload, then Tim Lafai charged through to provide a feverish finish. But they left their run too late, and Manu Ma'u's late try sealed the result.