Mate Ma’a Tonga booked a place in the Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in history with a 32-18 victory over Toa Samoa on Saturday night at a packed Waikato Stadium.
A commanding performance from Tonga’s star forward pack laid the platform, and off the back of it they starved Samoa of the ball and took full advantage of their opposition’s sloppy errors to score five tries.
Tonga did have to endure a nervous finish, as Samoa stormed home with a pair of four-pointers in the final 15 minutes, but in the end Kristian Woolf’s side had too much power and class for their Pacific rivals.
A horror night for Ken Maumalo saw the giant winger make mistakes in the lead up to Tonga’s first three tries, as Michael Jennings continued an incredible start to the World Cup by grabbing a double to make it five tries in two games.
The loss leaves Samoa facing a do-or-die clash with Scotland in Cairns in week three, to decide who qualifies through as the third team from Pool B.
Samoa had battled through a first half where they had only 41 per cent of the ball to trail a manageable 14-6 at the break.
Tonga peppered the line early and were on the board after 10 minutes when Jennings scooped up a Maumalo dropped bomb on his own line.
The Samoa response was swift, burrowing over through Jazz Tevaga to level it up at 6-6, but on the half hour Maumalo continued his unhappy night with another drop, handing Jennings his fifth try in 120 minutes of football this World Cup.
Combined with Sio Siua Taukeiaho’s penalty from in front of the posts, the Jennings’ brace sent Tonga into the sheds with a comfortable lead.
Twelve minutes into the second stanza Tonga were at it again, making the most of Samoa’s error coming out of their own 20 to score via Peni Terepo, who dragged two would-be tacklers over the line with him.
A fumble from Young Tonumaipea on the hour resulted in an offside player diving on the ball, and Tonga made full use of the ensuing set to put Ben Murdoch-Masila over from close range.
Minutes later Junior Paulo’s late offload sent Ben Roberts over to give Samoa a sniff, and when Tim Lafai scored with eight minutes to go to reduce the gap to eight, the match was hanging in the balance.
But a late Manu Ma’u try put a full stop on an emphatic victory, with all eyes now turning to Tonga’s much-anticipated meeting with New Zealand next week in Hamilton, with the winner assured of topping Pool B.
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.