“I don’t think I’ve ever seen two bigger men pull off a cover-defending tackle quite like that.”
As Tongan winger Jorge Taufua set sail for the south-east corner for what would have been his third try – and the match-winner – with less than three minutes left on the clock, Samoan forwards Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard proved just what international rugby league means to them with an astonishing cover-defending tackle that left Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss almost speechless.
Although Samoa controlled much of what was a gripping Pacific Test at Cbus Super Stadium, Tonga belied their status as the 16th-ranked rugby league nation in the world with a performance that pushed the No.4-ranked team to within 30 seconds of an upset, Samoa holding on 18-16 in front of 12,336 boisterous fans.
Tonga’s last tackle play with 36 seconds to go was a protracted affair with centre Konrad Hurrell leaving the field after copping a heavy hit from Dominique Peyroux which was ruled not to be deserving of a penalty.
It was a dramatic finish to a drama-charged contest that appeared headed Tonga’s way when they scored back-to-back tries through Taufua and Sika Manu that gave them a 14-10 lead with 29 minutes left to play.
Yet just five minutes later Samoa levelled the scores when offloads by Kasiano and Daniel Vidot created space for Pritchard to power over with Tonga retaking the lead in the 64th minute courtesy of a Solomone Kata penalty goal.
Then, with 10 minutes left to play, former Titan Peyroux created a moment he will treasure forever. With little happening in attack, Peyroux received the ball 35 metres out from the Tongan tryline, put on a big right-foot step, pushed away from Manu Ma’u and outpaced the Tongan defence to score what would prove to be the match-winner.
The drama was far from over as Tonga turned down a shot at penalty goal from 38 metres out three minutes from full-time and looked set to steal it until the two big bodies of Pritchard and Kasiano bundled Taufua into touch and Samoa held on in a frantic final two minutes.
The battle lines were drawn 79 minutes earlier courtesy of the pre-match war cries from both teams with the starting sides undergoing a significant reshuffling of personnel in key positions.
With Josh McGuire at hooker for Samoa and Mahe Fonua starting the game at five-eighth for Tonga, the only surprise was that Kasiano wasn’t shifted to halfback for Samoa.
On the back of a 70-metre charge down field from the opening set it was Samoa who had all the early running but Tonga who went closest to posting points first, Kata denied for a double movement after taking a nice inside pass from Samisoni Langi.
Samoa had their own knock-back from the match officials six minutes later when Frank Pritchard’s powerful run into the in-goal was ruled to have been aided by an obstruction by Kasiano.
Samoa did eventually translate field position into points courtesy of McGuire who – having been effective in the unfamiliar No.9 jersey – dummied to two ball-runners close to the line and burrowed over for a try that any hooker would be proud of.
Tonga wasted little time in hitting back and it was Kata again who was the prominent figure. With his team on the attack after big runs from Peni Terepo and Siosiua Taukeiaho, Kata received the ball on the left from a pass by Tuimoala Lolohea and held off Tim Simona, pushed past Joey Leilua and offloaded one-handed to Taufua to score.
An unhappy first half from Tongan winger Sosaia Feki manifested itself into a second try for Samoa three minutes from full-time with Daniel Vidot crashing over in the corner after some quick hands on the left edge.
Taking the ball 10 metres out, Vidot carried Langi seven metres across the tryline and after a thorough inspection by the video referee the try was given the green light, sparking wild Samoan celebrations to the tune of Tupac as Samoa took a 10-4 lead into the break.
Samoan halfback Tim Simona was forced from the field seven minutes from full-time with an injury to his right ankle while Ben Murdoch-Masila also suffered a lower leg injury in the dying stages.
Samoa 18 (Josh McGuire, Daniel Vidot, Frank Pritchard, Dominique Peyroux tries; Tim Simona goal) def. Tonga 16 (Jorge Taufua 2, Sika Manu tries; Solomone Kata 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Half-time: Samoa 10-4. Crowd: 12,336.