Tonga finished top of Group B with three wins from three as they edged past New Zealand 28-22 in Hamilton on Saturday.
Tonga took a 2-0 lead thanks to a penalty goal from Sio Siua Taukeiaho but it was all New Zealand from then on. The Kiwis scored three tries through Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to lead 16-2 at half-time.
Two tries from David Fusitu’a as well as efforts from Tui Lolohea and William Hopoate put Tonga into a 24-16 lead before Tuivasa-Sheck pulled one back for the Kiwis. A third from Fustiu’a sealed a fine 28-22 win for the Tongans though as they finished top of Group B with three wins from three.
David Kidwell made six changes to his New Zealand side that beat Scotland last week as Jason Nightingale, Pete Hiku, Te Maire Martin, Elijah Taylor, Kenny Bromwich and Addin Fonua-Blake were replaced by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana, Kodi Nikorima, Tommy Leuluai, Simon Mannering and Isaac Liu.
Kristian Woolf made two changes to his Tonga side that beat Samoa last time out. Mahe Fonua and Konrad Hurrell came in for Michael Jennings and Solomone Kata.
Tonga took the lead when they were awarded a penalty in the fifth minute. They opted to take the two and Sio Siua Taukeiaho successfully added the penalty goal to put his side 2-0 up.
It wasn’t until the 20th minute until the first try of the game was scored though. And it came for New Zealand. They passed it through quick hands to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who raced down the touchline to finish excellently in the corner to score his first ever try for the Kiwis. Shaun Johnson failed to convert but they were in a narrow 4-2 lead.
New Zealand were on good form in the first half and clinical when it came to scoring. They didn’t have a lot more chances than Tonga, but they took their chances. They passed it down the line again to Jordan Rapana who did well to touch down in the corner, despite a lot of pressure from the Tonga defence. Johnson made the score 10-2 to New Zealand with the conversion.
The Kiwis scored went into the half-time break with a bit of breathing space. Brad Takairangi made a superb offload to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who darted over the line. Johnson sent New Zealand into the interval with a healthy 16-2 advantage.
HALF TIME: New Zealand 16–2 Tonga.
Tonga started the second half in high spirit as David Fusitu’a leaped high to collect a chip and turn Watene-Zelezniak to score in the corner. Tui Lolohea dragged his conversion wide and Tonga were now 16-6 behind.
The Tongans were in again just before the hour mark as Konrad Hurrell produced a nice flick pass inside to David Fusitu’a who raced between Kiwi defenders to score. Lolohea this time converted and Tonga were only 16-12 behind.
New Zealand were struggling to test the Tonga defence as much as they were being tested. Half-back Lolohea intercepted a lofted pass to race 30-metres to score and celebrate with the travelling Tonga contingent. Taukeiaho added the conversion to edge his side into a narrow 18-16 lead.
Tonga stretched their lead when full-back William Hopoate scored on the back of a marvellous break from Ben Murdoch-Masila. Taukeiaho made the score 24-16.
Tuivasa-Sheck brought New Zealand back into the game though in the 71st minute when he stepped three players to dive over. Johnson added the conversion and the Kiwis only trailed 24-22.
However, Tonga sealed the win with a couple of minutes remaining when Fusitu’a completed his hat-trick. Taukeiaho missed the conversion but Tonga run-out 28-22 winners as they finished top of Group B.
FULL TIME: New Zealand 22–28 Tonga.
New Zealand – 22
Tries: Watene-Zelezniak, Rapana, Tuivasa-Sheck 2
Goals: Johnson 3/4
Tonga – 28
Tries: Fusitu’a 3, Lolohea, Hopoate
Goals: Taukeiaho 3/4, Lolohea 1/2
Loverugbyleague.com MOM: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand)
NEW ZEALAND: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3. Dean Whare, 4. Brad Takairangi, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Kodi Nikorima, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Martin Taupau, 9. Tommy Leuluai, 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11. Simon Mannering, 12. Joseph Tapine, 13. Adam Blair (C).
Interchange: 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 15. Russell Packer, 16. Isaac Liu, 17. Danny Levi.
Tonga: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 18. Mahe Fonua, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 5. David Fusitu’a, 6. Tui Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 11. Manu Ma’u, 12. Sika Manu (C), 13. Jason Taumalolo.
Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Sam Moa, 16. Peni Terepo, 17. Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Referee – Gerard Sutton