‘There’ll be a party in Auckland tonight’
HISTORY will be made when Tonga and Australia play each other in international rugby league for the first time in a sold out Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga’s team needs to bounce back from a shock loss to New Zealand last week.
Meninga named an unchanged team for the historic encounter, despite having to light a fire under his players after their sluggish performance against the Kiwis last week.
Kick-off is at 5.45pm (AEDT).
Australia claim victory but Tonga are winners
The 26,214 crowd prayed for a Tonga comeback — and it almost worked.
But in the end the Kangaroos proved why they are the world champions by overcoming a second half fightback to prevail 34-16 in their historic Test match.
The Mate Ma’a were behind by 20 and had forced the Kangaroos into a fourth straight line dropout when the sellout Mt Smart Stadium crowd broke into hymns.
And their prayers were answered when Solomone Kata crossed, instantly reviving memories of their near upset of England in their World Cup semi-final last year.
Kata cuts back inside and scores @tongaNRL’s third Try.#RoosTonga 30-16 after 52 minutes.#GoTheRoos pic.twitter.com/jx6ZZfDkRG
However, that was as close as the rising powerhouse got as James Tedesco restored the Kangaroos’ lead in the 64th minute and effectively sealed victory.
It was the contest Tonga players — led by former Kangaroos star Andrew Fifita — had been calling for since falling two points short of a fairytale World Cup final on the same ground last year.
And the fans turned out in their droves, with thousands lining up hours before kick-off to produce a sea of red and create a memorable atmosphere in Auckland.
Unfortunately for the “home” side, their side started slowly.
A David Fusitu’a error in just the third minute was a sign of things to come, and an early shoulder injury to halfback Ata Hingano didn’t help either.
A stray Siliva Havili pass bounced perfectly for Daly Cherry-Evans to race 35 metres and post first points, and his score was quickly followed by the first leg of Tom Trbojevic’s double.
The stunned crowd momentarily roared to life when Tevita Pangai Junior — arguably Tonga’s best — rampaged through a gaping hole in the 16th minute. But the steady flow of turnovers continued with Fifita’s error from the restart.
Barely a Kangaroos jersey there.Source:Getty Images
Trbojevic grabbed a second and Valentine Holmes crossed twice — the latter resulting in a possible eight-point try after Pangai Junior was reported for dangerous contact.
Pangai Junior struck Holmes in the head with a boot as he scored, but the Cronulla and Queensland star could only land a penalty in front of the posts after he missed an angled conversion.
The bonus kick allowed the Kangaroos to lead 30-10 at halftime. Holmes’ brace extended his record to 17 tries in just 13 Tests, he joins Michael O’Connor and Wendell Sailor in 12th on the list of the Kangaroos leading tryscorers.
Despite the final scoreline, Australian legend Darren Lockyer said nothing could stop the incredible crowd from celebrating.
“I know one thing, regardless of the result, there’ll be a party in Auckland tonight,” Lockyer said.
Australia out to spoil Tongan party
The crowd is firmly in the Tongan camp but Australia have fought against the passion and emotion of the match to take a commanding 30-10 lead into the halftime break.
A try to Valentine Holmes on the stroke of halftime, which was given as a possible eight-point try after video review, gave the Aussies a 20-point lead.
Holmes scored the try, but missed the first goal before kicking the conversion from in front.
Australia were on fire early but Tonga never let Australia get away.
Tevita Pangai Jr. became the first Tongan player to score against Australia.
The Tongans hit back against the run of play with Pangai Jr. running through a yawning gap to score under the posts to make the score 12-6 after Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic scored early.
TPJ finds a gap on our right edge and goes over for @tongaNRL.#RoosTonga 12-6 after 18 minutes.#GoTheRoos pic.twitter.com/m6cFjowGjo
After Holmes and Trbojevic’s second gave Australia 24-10 lead, the Tongans flew back into the contest after Daniel Tupou completed a slick backline movement.
Tevita Pangai Jr. channelled Benji Marshall with a great flick pass as the ball found its way to Tupou who unconvincingly put the ball down, but the bunker awarded the try.
Tupou gets the second Try for @tongaNRL.#RoosTonga 24-10 after 35 minutes.
It made the score 24-10 in the 35th minute before Holmes’ late score gave Australia the commanding lead at the break.
‘It’s more than sport tonight’: commentator
The stars are on the field in front of a sellout crowd at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland for the historic match between world champions Australia and Tonga.
The crowd is a sea of red jerseys and Tongan flags and singing the national anthem was too much for several Tongan stars with tears streaming down their faces.
The National Anthem of Tonga. #RoosTonga #MMT #MateMaaTonga pic.twitter.com/tmWRm0lTZ3
It’s an incredible crowd with the screaming fans drowning out the Tongan traditional war dance the Sipi Tau.
“It’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever experienced at a game of footy,” said one Channel 9 commentator.
Tonga deliver a stunning war cry. #RoosTonga #MMT #MateMaaTonga pic.twitter.com/8G5Q25CHWv
Fans were blown away by the emotion shown and were quick to take to social media.
why am i crying don’t make me cry tonga wth
Very emotional during Tonga’s National Anthem ?? #proudtobeabulldog
Sea of red greet Kangaroos
Tongan fans stream into Mt Smart Stadium.Source:FOX SPORTS
With 15 minutes left before kick-off, the crowd is still flooding in at Mount Smart Stadium — but there isn’t much green and gold in the crowd.
The Tongan fans responded and a sea of read is flooding the Auckland ground with the commentators raving about the sight.
“What an atmosphere, what a picture. It’s such a good thing for rugby league,” one said.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said the Tongan-centric crowd was great for rugby league.
“It’s the perfect environment, it’s hostile, that’s why you play footy,” Meninga said.
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