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New Zealand vs Tonga: Rugby league’s finest ever day

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    Rugby league has turned controversy into a refined art.

    There’s always something. Be it a player partying a little too hard and getting caught taking drugs/inappropriately touching a female or family pet without the consent of either/strolling nude through a hotel room/engaging a group sex/sending lewd texts, or players on the take, or Jarryd Hayne’s attempts to ensure he can’t stay out of the media for two minutes, or “let’s verbally bash the referee” day, or “let’s rag on the ‘gimmick’ of a World Cup”, a rugby league headline is invariably more focussed on stirring the pot rather than revelling in the actual match that took place.

    But all of that, all of the negative headlines, were put aside one Saturday afternoon in Hamilton. For two hours, two glorious hours in Hamilton, rugby league recorded its finest moment. Finally, after 120 years, the sport had everything fall into place for the good, and those who were there or saw it on TV will never forget it.

    A full house of 25,000 greeted New Zealand and the Tongans. 25,000 for a rugby league game in New Zealand?

    Scratch that. 25,000 for a rugby league game in Hamilton? National Highway 1 from Otara to Hamilton would have resembled more a mass evacuation you see in disaster films. Unreal.

    A haunting rendition of the New Zealand and Tongan anthems preceded a bone-chilling and raw trading of national war cries. Honestly, Adam Blair gripped that spear in such a manner you were urging him to launch it somewhere, anywhere. Heck, hurl it at me! Jason Taumolono responded in kind. It was raw, emotional and unrepeatable.

    The match itself? Incredible. New Zealand skipping off to a 14 point half-time lead, questioning whether the pundits and fans got it wrong. Did everyone overrate Tonga simply because of the great defectors? Proof that the second tier were still miles behind the top tier.

    Got it wrong? Bollocks! An inspired Tongan comeback, try and after try got them to a 22-16 lead and pandemonium among the Tongan fan-base with scenes seen only in a Pentecostal church – hymns and prayers included.

    Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRL Photos/Shane Wenzlick)

    NZ launched a mini-comeback to tighten up before one last push by Tonga put the game beyond reach and set off the trigger for the cataclysmic change to rugby league. An upset of unquantifiable magnitudes. Celebrations everywhere. Everywhere. Tonga, South Auckland, Hamilton, Sydney, Brisbane, everywhere.

    Other sports have had this moment. Japan knocking off South Africa in rugby union was massive, Ireland toppling England in the cricket, the Netherlands toppling the English in the cricket (gotta love it) were big deals, but victories to those countries didn’t give them a leg up to the semi-finals.

    It will for Tonga. It’s probably given them a chance of getting to the grand final.

    For two hours on Saturday, we saw peak rugby league. Finally, we saw what the game could be if all the planets aligned, and the perfect snowflakes fell from the sky, and the cherry blossoms were flawless. We saw it, and we won’t forget it. We saw why the game, in fact, any sport, needs a World Cup, no matter how small it is.

    Finally, we saw what Roy Masters, Phil Gould and Ray Warren have spent the best part of their lives trying to convince us exists – we saw the great and glorious game of rugby league.

    We’ve never seen better, and we never will.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • November 13th 2017 @ 8:44am
      Jimmmy said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      I am with you Spruce. That was very , very special. The Tongan fans are something else. When RL is played like that , nothing else comes close.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am
      Tony said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      I can’t agree with you, a bunch of NZ and Australian born and raised players beating NZ is hardly the games greatest day. Surely PNG beating Great Britain in the Lae I think.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 9:29am
        Stu said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Should we just right off the pacific islands as not exisiting since the majority of their population is born and lives outside their country of origin?

        • November 13th 2017 @ 9:47am
          Jacko said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          Stu how can it be the PI population if they are born and live elsewhere? Surely by that exact definition they would be the population of ELSEWHERE

          • November 13th 2017 @ 10:09am
            Stu said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

            Ill change the word from population to people then.

            So when is a Tongan a Tongan? Is it only when they live in Tonga? I’d say heritage has far more to do with it than where they currently reside. 20k of the 25k who turned up to the league wearing Tonga jerseys and waiving Tongan flags will be NZ residents/citizens, does that make them not Tongan?

            Does that mean anyone born in NZ living in Australia is an Ozzy?

            • November 13th 2017 @ 1:43pm
              not so super said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

              you used a false comparison. You compared someone born and moving countries to someone who was born and raised

              • Roar Rookie

                November 15th 2017 @ 6:44am
                Kreig Leitchze said | November 15th 2017 @ 6:44am | ! Report

                You’ll find that there a LOT of PI families that moved here this or last generation.

                So answer me this:

                I’m Australian born-and-raised. However, I’m first generation Australian; my family is German.

                I now live in NZ. I am a permanent resident, and will be a citizen within a year.

                So tell me, am I any less ‘eligible’ for one country over another?

                As I see it, once a citizen, I would be eligible to represent NZ, Australia or Germany.

                Indeed, I will have both an Aussie and Kiwi passport, and the only reason I don’t have a German one is because my mother was naturalised as an Aussie before I was born.

                Would it be a farce if I CHOSE to represent any of these countries?

                I AM Australian. From next year, I WILL BE a Kiwi. And as a first generation Aussie, no one can doubt my claim to my German heritage, which is immediate.

                So you can see, it’s all a little more complex than you might suppose. But don’t for a moment think it’s a farce.

                These people are just as proud of being Tongan as Kiwi. Farrah is just as proud of being Lebanese as Aussie.

                Yes, eligibility rules need to be tightened. I feel that at the start of a calendar year a player should have to nominate which country they intend to be eligible for that year.

                Doing so within a few weeks of a major tournament like the World Cup is unfair and not right. So yes, tighten up the rules.

                BUT these guys are ALL eligible to play for the countries they’re playing for, and I’m sure if you asked them, they have ownership pride over wearing that jersey, just as they would if they wore an Aussie or Kiwi one.

          • Roar Guru

            November 13th 2017 @ 10:19am
            Nat said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            Fair enough but to say they have no link to their country of heritage just because your parents moved to away for a better opportunity in life is a bit rough. These, very few, exceptional players who have the ability to play for a tier 1 nation then decide to enhance the skill set of a tier 2 nation have sacrificed both money and opportunity at WC success to do so. Should they be applauded for that selfless act? Tonga are going well now but this is the very first time a tier 2 has beaten a tier 1 in WC and if you cannot enjoy that spectacle, league is not for you.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 11:36am
            Fox Lvy said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

            l reckon you guy needs to be a little bit careful how hard you are on these players and their people..

            • Roar Guru

              November 13th 2017 @ 12:45pm
              spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

              Indeed right Fox. Half of these people think they are experts on identity and nation hood.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 1:44pm
                not so super said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

                interesting how all supporter of RL expansion now how this view

              • November 13th 2017 @ 2:06pm
                Fred said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

                Not so super, interesting that fans of other codes flock to rugby league articles to debate this topic again and again and again – but would never say the same about other sports (such as the Japanese national union team having ten Islanders/Kiwis in it – if we’re to use your definition of nationality)

              • November 13th 2017 @ 4:27pm
                terry tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

                there are 15k tongans residing in the tokyo-yokohama area..they go there under the two country’s education and emplyment exchange programme..nothing wrong with islanders playing in and representing japan..same way fijians are popping up in wallaby today is a very diverse city..

              • November 13th 2017 @ 5:24pm
                Fred said | November 13th 2017 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

                Terry, the Islanders/Kiwis in the Japanese team are professional footballers from overseas who got contracts to play in Japan. They are not Tongan-Japanese. Just like Henry Speight is not a Fijian-Australian, he is a Fijian working in Australia (playing footy).

              • November 13th 2017 @ 5:47pm
                terry tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

                if they’re eligible under the rules and good enough to make the japanese team, well done..nothing wrong with that..japanese team has a good mix of japanese, naturalized nationals and some japanized’s one of my favourite gteams..

              • November 13th 2017 @ 6:54pm
                Fred said | November 13th 2017 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

                Yeah fair enough Terry – not trying to have a go at them, just pointing out the hypocrisy of rugby league haters who come on these articles and bad mouth the game for whatever reason they can find – in this case eligibility, but if it wasn’t that it would be something else.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 7:52pm
                Jacko said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:52pm | ! Report

                Fred the guys playing for Japan have to LIVE in Japan for 3 years to qualify…….How many of the Tongan team have lived in Tonga at all?

              • November 13th 2017 @ 8:03pm
                Terry Tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

                they work in japan and earn a good living..what are the pro rugby league players going to do in tonga for 3 years?..your arguments make no sense..

              • November 13th 2017 @ 8:16pm
                Jacko said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

                Terry they HAVE to live in Japan to qualify for Japan. They have these rules you see.
                Your arguement about my arguement makes no sense

              • November 13th 2017 @ 8:29pm
                Terry Tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

                so why do you insult tongan players for not living in tonga?

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 10:02am
        spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Each to their own…i don’t see any Tongan fan demonstrating your levels of cynicism. They, not you, are the people who are the foremost judges of their national team composition.

        Unless you are Tongan, which i then stand corrected.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 4:30pm
          terry tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:30pm | ! Report

          yup..people here seem to think that because i don’t identify with where my parents or ancestors came from other people shouldn’t too..

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:12am
        Fox Lvy said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        so hard to convince people who always thinking of themselves. This aticle is terrific. It got on point where people can understand how heritage means everything to players especially small and poor nations.

        No one owns this world let alone New Zealand and Australia where this tournament is played and where we stay. People from the Island come here searching for better life and so do you. No Maorians or Aboriginal people of this land says a word.

        These players choose to play and represent their parents, people and cultures. See many players from PI represent other nations is different codes. They choose money, and its fine. why you just give credit to these players who trying to make a difference in Rugby league World..

        • November 13th 2017 @ 11:22am
          Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          I didn’t like the result but think it’s great that some are playing for their families heritage side, just let the team your leaving know a bit earlier.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 1:46pm
          not so super said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

          another false comparison. most choose the country they were born in, not money.
          how do you know what aboriginal and maori people think? how do you know the ethnicity of the people commenting?

          • November 13th 2017 @ 1:50pm
            spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

            How do you know the national identity of those playing?

            • November 13th 2017 @ 4:47pm
              Fox Lvy said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

              you are all boat people, nothing old and nothing new..

            • November 13th 2017 @ 8:00pm
              Jacko said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:00pm | ! Report

              Spruce it is EASY to see where they are born….Just GOOGLE it…..EG: Jason Taumalolo was Born in NZ and raised in NZ then at 14 he shifted to Townsville after the NQ Cowboys spotted him and signed him…..He has never left townsville to live anywhere else since then

              • November 13th 2017 @ 8:07pm
                Terry Tavita said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:07pm | ! Report

                so?..obviously he’s extremely proud of his tongan know, people can be born and raised in one country and still be proud of their heritage/ culture/ancestry..but obviously you’re not sophisticated enough to understand that..

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:16pm
                In brief said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:16pm | ! Report

                Hopefully he is proud, who knows? But heritage players for island teams make more sense than Aussie Irish and Aussie Italian teams which are a not based on cultural affinity.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:45pm
                Fox Lvy said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:45pm | ! Report

                born in NZ from Togan guy can leave your parents and evrything when you want to, but PI players never and thats the difference you need to nail right in front your big head..

          • November 13th 2017 @ 7:23pm
            Fox Lvy said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

            from the way you/they talk and words you use to insult these players!

    • November 13th 2017 @ 9:04am
      League Man said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      The biggest story of this world cup is the TV RATINGS

      They are insane.

      On Saturday the Australia v Lebanon Saturday 2.2m peak and 1.6m live streaming minutes. The #1 non-news program, averaging 848k combined viewers. Peaked with 1.1m with shares around 45% in Syd/Bris.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 9:58am
        spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report


        Well done to channel 7 for taking the punt to broadcast.

        Channel 9 must be furious with themselves ala 2005 when they didn’t broadcast the Ashes and SBS helped themselves to ratings domination in August.

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 10:25am
          Nat said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          Cudos to CH7 for televising all the games. Imagine just reading about the PI and PNG games in the paper, it would be a disaster for the competition and respect for the international game. PNG have been selling out that stadium every other week during the Q Cup, now we get to really appreciate what the game means to them.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 1:32pm
            matth said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Amen to that. The English are very, very lucky that their quarter final is in Melbourne.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 13th 2017 @ 9:18am
      up in the north said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      The best part for me is it showed what the tier two nations are capable of if they have access to all of their players.

      Maybe next RLWC the governing body could be the paymasters for all teams with a fixed fee across the board, it might make for an easier choice for those who qualify for dual citizenship to play for the underdogs. Just a thought.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:03am
        Jimmmy said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        That’s a really good thought North. RL has given everything to the top flight Aussie players. Maybe giving some back to the international game is worth som serious consideration.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 11:24am
          Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report


    • November 13th 2017 @ 10:00am
      bearfax said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Great to see. There’ s a strong chance that either Tonga or PNG could be in the final, if they can overcome England

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:33pm
        matth said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

        If the England quarter final was in Port Moresby, then I would give PNG a massive chance. Being in Melbourne makes it a bit harder.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 10:13am
      Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      sorry to be a wet rag or a sore loser; but a Tongan come back, I think the 2nd half should be watched again. 70% possession to Tongan, why, how did they do that, have a look at the refs calls and there are a lot of them. 45min to 56min 5 calls against Kiwis or maybe 4 calls cause the Fonua lose of ball may have been a rip as no replay. But all the others showed in the replay to be WRONG CALLS.
      So in the 58 & 61 & 64mins 3 x tries to Tonga. 61min 66% possession Tonga.
      68min DWZ penalised for jumping for the ball ( WRONG )
      70min Rapana breaks free tackled twice, no sin bin ( WRONG ), Tonga penalised, I think Kiwis only penalty they received 2nd half.
      With less than 1/3 of the ball in the 2nd half the Kiwis did a great job in keeping the score so close.
      I can’t find the stats for this match anywhere, can someone enlighten me.
      I’m sure lebanon will be speaking to the refs before the game, certainly if Sutton is the ref.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 10:34am
        Sleiman Azizi said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        It is great that Tonga won the game.


        But I think New Zealand are still underrated in this tournament.

        Despite having no ball, they still came close to winning against a top side.

        Imagine if it turns out to be a New Zealand v Tonga final…

        Ye gads!

        • November 13th 2017 @ 11:04am
          Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

          yes very good for league, but at the expense of my Kiwis, no, or any other team.
          I’m sure Kiwis would have won that and Tonga would have learned a lesson. But in saying that, surely their coach would know what happened and will address the issues and bring his players back to reality. Because the fairy tale refereeing cannot continue.
          I can just image Robbie Farah talking with refs prior to their kick off against Tonga. The Lebanon team will go nuts if they are penalised out of the game unlike Blair who did nothing.
          It might back fire, if the Kiwis beat the Roos’, God that would hurt.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 8:04pm
          Jacko said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

          Spot on Cedric….That is Leagues biggest issue…refs are incompetent and they never get questioned. I was very angry by the 60min mark at the reffing

        • November 15th 2017 @ 5:39pm
          republican said | November 15th 2017 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

          ……NZ will win the WC I believe and especially if its v Australia who are looking typically complacent and uninspiring so far in the tournament………..

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