Rugby League World Cup: Tonga fairytale over
England is through to the final of the Rugby League World Cup to play Australia after a crazy win over Tonga.
TONGA'S fairytale run to the semi-final of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup was dashed in heartbreaking scenes in one of the most controversial finishes rugby league has witnessed.
Tonga came alive in the final 10 minutes after trailing 20-0 to almost pull-off one of the greatest comebacks in international rugby league. England held on to win 20-18 and will play Australia in the final at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday.
World reacts to heartbreaking Tonga decision
Tonga was unfairly robbed of a chance to play in their first Rugby League World Cup final after a controversial call in the dying seconds.
The decision from referee Matt Cecchin to ignore a strip tackle on Andrew Fifita in the final play of the day was the wrong decision, according to livid rugby league commentators.
' Devastation' in crazy, controversial finish
Tonga was robbed of a chance to snatch a fairytale last-gasp try when Andrew Fifita had the ball stripped out of his hands as he was running towards the open try-line.
After failing to score for 72 minutes, Tonga amounted a crazy comeback in the dying minutes to score three tries in five minutes.
They very nearly scored the fourth try they needed to pull off one of the greatest miracle comebacks in rugby league, but Fifita was stripped of the ball 10m from the try-line by English defender Elliot Whitehead.
"Controversy," a Channel 7 commentator said.
"Devastation for Tonga."
Rugby league star Benji Marshall was stunned the referee did not decide to take the Fifita strip decision to the video referee.
"I can't believe it," he said.
Fifita was steaming through a hole in the English defence after trampling a defender before Whitehead dived out and raked the ball from his gasp.
The decision not to send the call up to the video ref sparked angry protests from Tongan players.
Matt Cecchin refused to send the decision up and England is now through to the final.
"That's cost Tonga the final," Aussie rugby league legend Laurie Daley told Channel 7.
Tonga comes back with three tries in five minutes
Tonga scored three late tries to give them the faintest of chances of a fairytale comeback.
After going 72 minutes without scoring, Tonga scored three in five minutes.
Tonga finally got on the scoreboard with a try to Tevita Pangai Junior in the 73rd minute.
Pangai had to barge over the top of three English defenders to get Tonga on the scoreboard.
They followed it up with tries to Siliva Havili and Tuimoala Lolohea.
England 20 Tonga 18. 78th minute.
England puts Tonga to the sword
Another piece of Gareth Widdop magic put John Bateman over the try-line to all but kill off Tonga's World Cup final dream.
Widdop took the line on before dishing a perfect short pop-up for Bateman to run onto without a defender in front of him 10m from the line.
It extended England's lead to 20 points.
Tongan fans create amazing atmosphere... again
Tongan fans refused to be silenced despite England dominating their semi-final.
Tongan fans took up a chant singing a hymn that echoed around Mt Smart Stadium during the second half.
Widdop extends England's lead
Gareth Widdop nailed a 30m penalty goal to extend England's lead to 14 points.
Roosters star ruins easy try
Roosters winger Daniel Tupou spooned one of the easiest tries he may ever score when he knocked the Steeden on unmarked on the try-line as Tonga's first try went begging.
Tonga No. 9 Siliva Havili threw a superb cut-out ball to the Tongan winger, who only had to catch the ball and fall over the line to get Tonga on the board. It was too much for the former NSW State of Origin star.
"Can you believe that," NRL great Darryl Halligan said in commentary for Sky Sports New Zealand.
"It was a simple catch and a simple put down."
Tonga fought back to enjoy good field possession and regularly threaten the English try-line, but some desperate defence ensured England was still ahead 12-0 at half time.
Star fullback Gareth Widdop has been the difference between the two teams. The classy Dragons playmaker set-up the first try with a pass to Jermaine McGillvary before he barged over the line himself for England's second try. He was also denied a late try when it was ruled he needed a double movement to get the ball over the line.
Josh Hodgson suffers knee injury
Star English No. 9 Josh Hodgson has been ruled out for the rest of the game after suffering a knee injury.
Hodgson stayed down after he was tackled in the act of making a linebreak.
The Raiders hooker limped off after trying to play on for a number of minutes.
England makes it a 12-point lead
Gareth Widdop cracked open Tonga's defence again and barged over the try line to extend England's lead to 12 points in the 18th minute.
Tonga robbed of 'try of the tournament'
Tonga was robbed of a try in the 14th minute after a controversial ruling that Michael Jennings had passed the football after being tackled to the ground.
The referee ruled the tackle was already complete after Jennings elbows hit the turf while being tackled by two English defenders.
Jenninhgs' pass to Sika Manu allowed the forward to dive over the try line and finish of a freak try where the Steeden went through six pairs of hands in a 80m linebreak.
The try was disallowed by the on-field referee and a penalty was awarded to England.
England strike first
England has scored the first points of their semi-final against Tonga as Jermaine McGillvary finished off a simple catch and pass play that created an overlap on England's right wing.
Star fullback Gareth Widdop gave the final pass to McGillvary as Tonga's left edge defence got all muddled up.
Crowd loses control before kick-off
The crowd went absolutely nuts at the end of the Tongan Sipi Tau war dance.
'Never seen anything like this'
The atmosphere building at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland has been labelled one of the greatest pre-match experiences the game has ever seen.
The game has already been officially called a sell-out with more than 30,000 spectators expected to cram into the Auckland venue. Almost all of them will be cheering on the fairytale Tonga team.
The scenes in the final minutes before kick-off were unlike anything international rugby league has ever witnessed.
Final teams announced
England and Samoa have both named unchanged team's from the sides announced earlier this week.
NRL legend's huge Tonga call
NRL legend Brett Kimmorley says Tonga will cause a "huge upset" and knock off Wayne Bennett's England team when they face off in their Rugby League World Cup semi-final on Saturday.
Kimmorley told Channel 7's Sunrise England's attack is too blunt to score enough points against Tonga.
Kangaroos legend Mark Geyer has also tipped Tonga to topple England, despite the fact Bennett's team will start favourite with bookmakers.
"They've been emotionally charged all tournament by the fact that Jason Taumalolo had defected from New Zealand," Kimmorley said.
"Obviously Andrew Fifita did the same to Australia. I haven't seen enough to get really excited about England. I think they have a wonderful forward pack, but I think in attack they just don't ask enough questions. I think Tonga will cause a huge upset in New Zealand. They're the only team who can still challenge Australia."
A Tonga win against England would take the so-called Tier 2 nation to within one win away from the greatest ever upset in international rugby league.
Tonga started the tournament at $101 to win the tournament with the TAB, but are now $11 to go all the way.
The $101 long-shot would be the biggest fairytale in international rugby league.
"This will be up there with one of the biggest upsets we've seen, with only the Wests Tigers' premiership in 2005, when they were $151 after round eight, topping a Tongan or Fijian title," TAB's Nick Quinn said.
It would also be the equal 15th biggest upset result across all sport, according to the TAB.
Get your hand off it Wayne
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has brushed off English counterpart Wayne Bennett's renewal of the international rugby league eligibility debate ahead of the two sides' World Cup semi-final.
Rampaging lock forward Jason Taumalolo shocked the league world in October by defecting from his birth nation of New Zealand to his Tongan motherland. He was joined by David Fusitu'a, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma'u, while Sharks-based powerhouse Andrew Fifita snubbed Australia.
Yet the quintet's decision appears to have paid off, with New Zealand crashing out in the quarter-finals and Tonga easing into the Cup final four. Bennett kept his thoughts to himself for much of the World Cup, but unleashed a few barbs in the direction of the Tongan camp this week.
With his side set to face Mate Ma'a for a spot in the Cup final, Bennett said guidelines for representing tier-two nations need to be tightened. He suggested the five players had disrupted the Kiwis and Kangaroos camps with their switch, and left their birth nations in the lurch.
Woolf gave short shrift to Bennett's views.
"It doesn't really bother me. We're well into the tournament, that's an issue for six weeks ago now. I didn't read it," Woolf said on Friday. A former Brisbane Broncos assistant and current Townsville Blackhawks coach, Woolf has taken Tonga to unprecedented heights this year.
Ranked 11th in the world at the start of the Cup, Tonga have tipped over Samoa, Scotland, the Kiwis and Lebanon on the way to their semi-final. Woolf admitted he'd like to step up to full-time NRL coaching at some point in the future, but was enjoying his time with the Polynesians.
"This has been an outstanding campaign and, like the players have, I've enjoyed my six weeks - that speaks volumes for the whole group. Everyone's still enjoying each other's company, everyone is enjoying being away," Woolf said.