Tonga survive RLWC scare against PNG with wild last-gasp winner

By Brodyn Knuckey, Digital Sport Reporter of One News and is republished with permission.

Mate Ma’a Tonga have survived a Rugby League World Cup scare from Papua New Guinea, scoring an improvised winner in the 78th minute to claim a 24-18 victory this morning.

MMT

Rabbitohs star Kaeon Koloamatangi scored the winning try on debut but not before the ball was offloaded four times and went to ground on three separate occasions on the fifth and final play of their 77m set.

“It was a bit of a blur,” Koloamatangi said after the match of his try.

“I think it was last tackle and the boys were just throwing the ball around and I was trying to the follow the ball in case something happened. Siua [Siosiua Taukeiaho] put a good kick in, it was perfect, and I was just lucky to be there.

“I always dreamed of playing for Tonga and to score a try at my first World Cup, in my first game, I’m very humbled by it.”

The try saw the 18-18 deadlock broken and with the Kumuls kicking the restart into touch on the full in desperation trying to get possession back in the final minute, the win was sealed.

It was a heartbreaking finish for Papua New Guinea after they showed heart to wrestle their way back into the contest in the second half after heading to the sheds down 18-6.

The Kumuls made it clear they were going to be a challenge for the 2017 semi-finalists when they opened the scoring through captain Rhyse Martin in the sixth minute before they looked like they had added a second five minutes later only for Edwin Ipape to be denied for losing the ball just before the line.

Instead, Tonga replied with Will Penisini after he supported a stunning kick return from Tolutau Koula that left the Papua New Guinea defence in disarray.

PNG again looked to have scored to retake the lead in the 27th minute but replays showed Dan Russell had put a foot into touch before grounding the ball.

As they did before, Tonga replied with certainty as Moeaki Fotuaika and Isaiya Katoa scored back-to-back tries in the space of 90 seconds, giving the Pacific powerhouse their 18-6 lead at halftime.

Tonga dive in to score against Papua New Guinea.
Tonga dive in to score against Papua New Guinea. (Source: Associated Press)

The Kumuls weren’t to be outdone though and Ipape sparked a comeback early after the break by beating four defenders to set up Lachlan Lam for a try.

Papua New Guinea then looked to tie the score only for the TMO to again intervene, although unlike the previous two, Rodrick Tai’s denied try was far more controversial and took numerous replays to decide that he’d placed the ball on the sideline by millimetres as he dived for the corner.

Tonga were finally denied a try when Lam was held up by Papua New Guinea before a horror knock on out of dummy half on their own try line from the MMT allowed the Kumuls the perfect chance to even the score in the 68th minute.

They did just that, with Alex Johnston crossing over in the left corner, tying the game at 18-18.

Cue the chaos.

With the game seemingly heading for a draw, Tonga conjured a miracle play that maybe only they could pull off, with prop Siosiua Taukeiaho grubbering the ball through for Koloamatangi to score.

Tonga now have six days to recover before they take on Wales next Tuesday morning.

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