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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.

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • Roar Guru

      November 13th 2017 @ 10:42am
      BigJ said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      “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.”

      Excellent point and exactly why I choose to stick to top ten articles rather than indulging into the off field antics of the NRL player. Focusing on the on field game play is what makes this the greatest game in the world and leaving the off field garbage off field. While I don’t approve of any wrong doings off the field its important to deal with these situations off the field.

      Having said that great game, have not watched it yet but looking to watching it tonight

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:34pm
        matth said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        You are in for a treat. Don’t miss the pre-match!

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 4:46pm
          BigJ said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          copy that

    • November 13th 2017 @ 10:56am
      Albo said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      Cedric , the NRL website has all the match & player stats for all games played.
      See https://matchcentre.nrl.com/match/2017/131/20171310320/#match-report for that match.
      Possession ended up 53/47 to Tonga as NZ made 14 errors to 8, and were penalised 8 – 6 on that count.
      I tend to agree that Tonga got a bit of help with couple of decisions in that 2nd half, but NZ had led comfortably at halftime , they had the wind behind them in the 2nd half, but their halves never took control of the match. The Tongans held the ball much better in the 2nd half ( overall 86 % completion rate to NZ’s 68%) , Lolohea became the best half on the field for 40 minutes, and the Tongan’s cashed in on DWZ’s limitations in defence with Fusitua having a picnic on that wing. In the end the better side won the contest, and it was even more encouraging that they did it without Michael Jennings who was ruled out. For NZ it was an average effort once the Tongan heat was applied, with only RTS and Nelson Asofa-Solomona causing the Tongans any headaches. Whilst they should beat Fiji in the quarterfinals, NZ would then likely meet Australia in the semi’s, with England v Tonga likely to make up the other semi.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:06am
        Jimmmy said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        What’s this .? Some serious analysis of why the KIWIS lost. Not allowed mate. Didn’t you know? It is ALWAYS the Ref.!

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:19am
        Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        the tv showed at the 61min mark 66% possession to Tonga; at the end of the game the NZ commentary team briefly mentioned 70% possession to Tonga in the 2nd half. Did you not see the replays of the penalties and calls against the kiwis, they were wrong calls, Mannering knock on wrong. I’ve got 6 wrong calls maybe 7 but no replay. No wonder the big Tongan forwards were still fresh until the end.
        So Tongans got 6 or 7 dud Kiwi calls go their way and they were penalised once for the 2nd half.
        Kidwell calls it a blessing in disguise, guess we’ll find out.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 1:36pm
          matth said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

          The worst call on the night by far was leaving Nightingale out of the side.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 1:55pm
            Cedric said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

            maybe, but how do you stop Fusitua at 6’4″ on the move jumping with hands up catching the ball from not scoring. Next one, ok DWZ should have stayed on his man but then maybe Hurrell scores. Also not sure if Nightingale would have had the gas to scoot past Fusitua to score that try. In any case the Fuss is a class act.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 7:00pm
            Dee said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

            Nah the worst call was a non call against NZ. High tackle around the neck. Should’ve been a auto red early in the first half.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 11:25am
      Fiji said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

      It really was a great game!

    • Roar Guru

      November 13th 2017 @ 11:41am
      Sleiman Azizi said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

      The stars did indeed align for that match.

      The next step is to make sure that we needn’t have to rely on the stars.

      Let’s hope the powers that be can take the bull by the horns and guide this newly experienced sporting narrative. Because really, that is what sport does, it provides a narrative and story for people to become involved with.

      The revenge match MUST be played next year during the Origin period. In the same vein, Ireland must have a chance at PNG again after their agonisingly close match in Port Moresby.

      The game’s administrators must surely see the potential stories here, right?

      • November 13th 2017 @ 12:14pm
        beepee said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        Ireland can consider themselves very unfortunate. Two big wins, and a narrow loss to PNG in the tough PNG conditions – and they’re on the way home! Samoa did not win a game but still advance to the quarter finals, and Lebanon just the one. The poor Irish must be scratching their heads…I thought they had a good tournament ,and showed heaps!
        So, yes, the powers that be should be rewarding Ireland in the short term somehow, and not leave them wanting for further international competition.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm
          Fred said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

          Yes hard luck for the Irish. But on the plus side you’d think having played so well, it will encourage the players to turn out for Ireland again in future. It will have been a great experience for the Irish domestic amateur players too.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm
      Dr Chop said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

      This match was the highlight of the World Cup for me. Hopefully Tonga get up over Lebanon (they really should) and England beat PNG cause England vs Tonga will be one hell of a contest.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm
      not so super said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

      finest ever day?

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:51pm
        spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

        in my opinion, yes.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 3:23pm
          Jimmmy said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

          Big call Spruce. I still think Origin 1in 1980 ( but hey I’m a QLDer who had watched us get smashed by NSW since I was a 5year old) but that game on the weekend was right up there.
          As for the garbage about eligibility that some sad individuals can’t seem to let go of? . That is so last century. This is the modern world. Get used to it.

          • Roar Guru

            November 13th 2017 @ 4:43pm
            spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:43pm | ! Report

            I wasn’t alive then, so I’ll defer to your memory of that day.

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