Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
A phenomenal fightback by Tonga in the final quarter of the game has seen them cap their first ever victory over New Zealand in a match which lived up to the hype.
An amazing atmosphere greeted both teams as they entered the field before the anthems and very powerful war dances. Some very hard, early exchanges from both sides set the tone for the first quarter of the game.
Rapana went close to scoring but couldn't hold the pass. Tonga let their discipline slip and New Zealand took full advantage, mounting plenty of pressure up the middle before sending the ball wide to Watene-Zelezniak who scored a good try in the corner.
A great kick return by Tuivasa-Sheck laid the platform for the next Kiwi's try as they went the length of the field in the set before going wide to put Rapana over in the corner. Shaun Johnson's conversion attempt looked ugly but managed to find it's way over the bar, giving the Kiwi's an 8 point lead.
Watene-Zelezniak and Tonga's Daniel Tupou both traded disallowed tries before a great pass off the ground by Brad Takairangi found Tuivasa-Sheck back up on the inside, who went over for a try on halftime. Johnson converted and the Kiwi's lead 16-2 at the break.
Tonga needed to score first in the second half and Fusitua did just that when he produced a great leap and catch to score out wide. Just as the Kiwi's looked to be building momentum, Tonga struck with three amazing tries in the space of six minutes. Hurrell threw a great flick pass inside to Fusitua who ran back infield and scored. Lolohea converted.
Three minutes later New Zealand were working the ball out of their own half a little too casually when Lolohea snatched an intercept and ran 30 metres to score under the posts. Taukeiaho converted.
Another three minutes passed before a barnstorming bust by Murdoch-Masila out wide, before passing to Hopoate backing up, scored under the posts. Taukeiaho converted to give Tonga an 8 point lead.
New Zealand struck back when Tuivasa-Sheck cleaned up a stray pass and with a typically Tuivasa-Sheck run through broken play, scored a great solo try. Johnson converted to reduce the Kiwi deficit to just 2 points.
With just 2 minutes left in the game and Tonga again on the attack, Hurrell produced another great draw and pass to put Fusitua over for his third and the match winning try.
New Zealand 22 - Tonga 28
Venue: FMG Stadium Waikato
Halftime Score: New Zealand 16 Tonga 2
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - David Fusitua
2 points - Jason Taumalolo
1 points - Tuimoala Lolohea
NEW ZEALAND (22)
Tries: Dallin Watene Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana, Roger Tuivasa-sheck (2)
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (3/4)
Tries: David Fusitua (3), Tuimoala Lolohea, William Hopoate
Conversions: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (2/3), Tuimoala Lolohea (1/2)
Penalty Goals: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (1/1)