Samoa set up a semi-final re-match against England with a dramatic 20-18 win over Tonga at Warrington.
Matt Parish’s side held on at the death to deny Tonga, who had set up a grandstand finish through Siona Katoa’s 71st minute try.
Tonga never led in the match and they were left heartbroken as the end, as Samoa reached their first ever World Cup semi-final.
A match to remember
Siva Tau met Sipi Tau in a breathtaking show of respect prior to kick-off that set the tone for a bruising and passionate contest played with respect and drama in front of a packed crowd at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Samoa made a dismal start to the tournament against England four weeks ago, but they got off to the perfect start here as Jaydn Su’a ran a lovely line off Anthony Milford’s pass and danced past the full back and under the posts right in front of the Tonga fans.
There might be a doubt over Joseph Suaali’i’s participation in the semi-finals for an incident that led to Tonga’s first try. He was penalised, and put on report, for leading with the knee in the tackle, which will be reviewed by the disciplinary panel in midweek.
From it, Tonga moved up field and St Helens’ Will Hopoate, making his first appearance of the tournament, passed wide for Daniel Tupou on the stretch to touch down.
It was a mixed bag from Sydney Roosters wing Tupou in the first half, as he was responsible for two defensive errors that helped Samoa towards their second try.
First, he spilled a high kick from Isaiya Katoa and then after Hopoate had done well to defend a kick to the other side, Tupou threw out a wild offload forcing Tonga to touch down in their own in-goal for a drop out.
That repeat set built more pressure on the line, and after Will Penisini had seemingly held up Jarome Luai with a good read going left, Luai managed to spring out of the tackle and find his way to the line.
Another Tupou spill, this time from a wicked high kick by Luai then had Tonga on the back foot again with excellent front-rower Josh Papali’i taking the ball to inches from the line. After forcing a repeat set, Samoa let their opponents off the hook when Oregon Kaufusi dropped the ball cold 10 metres out.
Trailing 12-4, Tonga started to build pressure with 10 minutes left til half-time, Tui Lolohea’s grubber kick forcing Suaali’i to knock the ball dead. Having lost hooker Siliva Havili to a head knock assessment, his replacement Soni Luke would create Tonga’s second try. He took the ball out of dummy half under the posts and put a short kick through that popped up for new Catalan signing Siosiua Taukeiaho to score.
Samoa ended the first half on top and thought they had finally broken down the narrow right edge defence of Tonga through Tiny May, just moments after his huge shot on Keaon Koloamatangi had forced the change of possession, but the referee said the final pass was forward.
The game was finely poised at the break, and within nine minutes, it was all square at 12-all when Katoa converted a penalty.
A few minutes later, Samoa rejected their own chance to go at goal from 35 metres out and though they couldn’t find a try, Luai did force a drop out after a probing run and kick to the line. From the drop out, Tonga fouled again and this time, Stephen Crichton decided to add the two and Samoa led 14-12.
They were in dreamland a minute later when a superb Suaali’i break, bouncing off no less than four defenders, got Samoa and close and Milford’s kick was missed by two Tonga defenders in the air and sat up for Brian To’o to score their third try.
Tonga had work to do to overturn an eight point deficit with 20 minutes left and it proved too much.
A long range try from Sione Katoa, who went under the posts after breaks down the middle from Koloamatangi and Suli, brought Tonga back within two points and they spent the final two minutes of the match camped on the Samoa line but couldn’t find a way through.
So it is Samoa that will stand in the way of England reaching a second successive World Cup final. That semi-final will take place at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Full time: Tonga 18-20 Samoa
Tonga: Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Mosese Suli, Will Penisini, Siona Katoa, Isaiya Katoa, Tui Lolohea, Addin Fonua-Blake, Siliva Havili, Moeaki Fotuaika, Felise Kaufusi, Keaon Koloamatangi, Jason Taumalolo. Subs: Soni Luke, Siosiua Taukeiaho, David Fifita, Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Tries: Tupou, Taukeiaho, S Katoa. Goals: I Katoa 2.
Samoa: Joseph Suaali’i, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Tim Lafai, Tiny May, Jarome Luai, Anthony Milford, Royce Hunt, Danny Levi, Junior Paulo, Ligi Sao, Jaydn Su’a, Oregon Kaufusi. Subs: Chanel Harris-Tavita, Josh Papali’i, Kelma Tuilagi, Martin Taupa’u.
Tries: Su’a, Luai, To’o. Goals: Crichton 4.