Samoa became the first Pacific nation ever to reach a Rugby League World Cup final with a dramatic golden point extra time win over England at the Emirates.
England had staged a fightback in a grandstand finish, with Tommy Makinson keeping his nerve to convert Herbie Farnworth’s 77th minute try to force extra time at 26-26.
But two mistakes put England under the cosh, and after Elliott Whitehead had charged down from Anthony Milford, it was Stephen Crichton who stepped up for the decisive attempt minutes later to win it by a point.
Samoa now go on to face Australia, who beat New Zealand in a thriller last night, in next weekend’s final at Old Trafford.
There was a battle of the Salford centres in the first half, as Tim Lafai went up against Kallum Watkins. Unfortunately for England, it was Lafai who got the better of his clubmate, coasting past him for the first try of the game on six minutes.
Samoa had started on the back foot when the kick-off was fielded in touch by Dom Young, and they were fortunate that Junior Paulo was only sinbinned for a nasty tip tackle on Tom Burgess that could have easily been a red card.
Captain Paulo was only in the team having had his suspension for leading with a forearm in the quarter-final win against Tonga overturned in midweek.
With him on the sidelines, Samoa lost former Featherstone hooker Nu Brown to concussion after he clashed heads with team-mate Oregon Kaufusi trying to halt a Tommy Makinson break. Brown had only been drafted in as replacement for Danny Levi, forced to depart the tournament and return home due to personal reasons in the build-up.
It looked like their adversity had opened the door up for England when Watkins made the most of their numerical advantage to slide over on the right – or so he thought. The try was referred upstairs and it revealed that Lafai had got the better of him again, this time somehow dislodging the ball moments before it was grounded.
Samoa still led 4-0 when Paulo returned to the field, but England would get their first try of the afternoon on 24 minutes – George Williams attacked the line, got his arms free and got an offload away for Canberra Raiders back-rower Elliott Whitehead.
A lacklustre first half by England was perhaps best summed up when Hull powerhouse Ligi Sao went 15 metres from dummy half, Watkins having stepped the wrong way from marker, to give them a 10-6 lead at the break.
Within five minutes of the restart, Watkins had made up for his earlier error, forcing the ball free in a tackle on the Samoa line and that gifted John Bateman the simple task of picking the ball up and putting it over the try line from a yard out, Makinson’s conversion edging England 12-10 in front.
But Samoa turned the game on its head with two tries in eight minutes. The first came off an incredible offload by Paulo, backing up a Jarome Luai run, and Stephen Crichton slid over.
And then the legs of Luai again caused problems for England, as he brushed off Young and put Lafai in for his second try of the afternoon.
England had work to do, and a dust up shortly after the hour mark fired them in to life. They came within millimetres of pulling one back when Jack Welsby’s kick bounced back for Bateman to score, only for the replay to show it had just broken the whitewash in-goal.
Although not awarded the try, England were awarded a penalty for offside, and from that set, they moved left and Brisbane Bronco Herbie Farnworth held off four defenders to touch down and drag them back in to the match.
There was controversy about the next score, a Makinson penalty from 20 metres out, awarded after Paulo had pushed Tomkins after the England captain had kicked down field. Samoa challenged the call, but the decision stood and the game was locked at 20-all with 13 minutes to go.
It seemed that England were on top until Victor Radley, who had taken over from Michael McIlorum at hooker, had his pass left snared by Crichton who went 60 metres unopposed to give Samoa the lead again.
England weren’t done though and Williams’ break down the left was backed up by Farnworth to go long-range, and he brought the ball round just enough for Makinson to slot over a tricky conversion. A bit more composure might have won it in the dying seconds, Whitehead charging through down the left but instead of taking the tackle 25 metres out and setting up for a possible drop goal, he flung the ball out looking for a team-mate and it went to ground and the chance was gone.
Samoa kicked off in extra time but England didn’t see their half again. A dropped ball by Welsby set up the first chance, charged down by Whitehead from Milford, before Welsby was adjudged to have thrown a forward pass just inside his own half and Samoa didn’t make the same mistake again.
England’s wait for a World Cup final appearance on home soil goes on.
Full time: England 26-27 Samoa
England: Sam Tomkins, Dom Young, Kallum Watkins, Herbie Farnworth, Tommy Makinson, Jack Welsby, George Williams, Tom Burgess, Michael McIlorum, Chris Hill, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman, Victor Radley. Subs: Michael McMeeken, Morgan Knowles, Luke Thompson, Mike Cooper.
Tries: Whitehead, Bateman, Farnworth 2. Goals: Makinson 5.
Samoa: Joseph Suaali’i, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Tim Lafai, Tiny May, Jarome Luai, Anthony Milford, Royce Hunt, Fa’amanu Brown, Junior Paulo, Ligi Sao, Jaydn Su’a, Oregon Kaufusi. Subs: Chanel Harris-Tavita, Josh Papali’i, Spencer Leniu, Kelma Tuilagi.
Tries: Lafai 2, Sao, Crichton. Goals: Crichton 2. Drop goal: Crichton.