Last-second call mars England RL WCup win

Tongan coach Kristian Woolf says he’s dumbfounded by referee Matt Cecchin’s failure to check a disallowed last-gasp Andrew Fifita try in his side’s 20-18 Rugby League World Cup semi-final loss to England.

Down 20-0 with seven minutes to go and seemingly finished, Mate Ma’a somehow found a way on Saturday to send panic through the English ranks with three tries.

And they could’ve snared a winner, had prop Fifita’s disallowed try – which appeared legitimate in replays – been referred upstairs.

In what was the game’s final play, the ex-Kangaroo had the ball stripped by English back-rower Elliott Whitehead, but regathered to dive over.

Yet Cecchin called a knock-on and didn’t go to the video ref.

Woolf insisted post-match he hadn’t seen the replays but couldn’t believe the referee didn’t seek a second opinion, given what was at stake.

As a result, Tonga’s history-making Cup run came to an end, having toppled New Zealand to finish first in Pool B and defeating quarter-finalists Lebanon.

England will contest next week’s World Cup final against odds-on favourites Australia in Brisbane, having lost to the Kangaroos 18-4 in the tournament’s opening pool match.

“I would’ve thought that, in those circumstances, there’s no way in the world you don’t look at it – that really surprises me,” Woolf told reporters.

“The game’s on the line, the last play of the game. You look at other tries 10, 12 times and yet we don’t have a look at that?”

English counterpart Wayne Bennett admitted his side were a little rattled by Tonga’s late surge, scoring through Tevita Pangai Jr, Siliva Havili and Tuimoala Lolohea within five minutes to give Mate Ma’a a sniff of victory.

But he felt Fifita’s try should never have occurred, as English winger Jermaine McGillvary had been unfairly stripped of the ball a minute earlier.

“No, I wasn’t nervous. Why didn’t he give us a penalty when the ball got stripped off McGillvary? It’s the same thing, exactly the same,” Bennett said.

Ultimately, it was England’s solid first half that took them home.

Emerging composed to a partisan Tongan crowd, the Bennett-coached England scored early tries through McGillvary and man of the match Gareth Widdop.

An additional Widdop penalty goal in the second half and a John Bateman try gave them just enough breathing space to hold on.

Bennett was pleased with 70 of 80 minutes.

“It was a quality game of football – they had some chances and lost a couple they probably should’ve taken, and we kept turning up in defence,” Bennett said.

“At the end of the day, our defence won the game for us.

“We had our hands full, were up for it and got the job done.”

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