Tonga fall short to England in WCup semi

Tonga have fallen one step short of the Rugby League World Cup decider, downed 20-18 by England in Saturday’s semi-final in Auckland.

Backed by a partisan Tongan crowd, Mate Ma’a brought all their trademark bullishness but blundered early with ball in hand to trail 14-0.

They came up agonisingly short in an extraordinary final period, in which they scored three late tries in five minutes.

Ex-Kangaroo prop Andrew Fifita appeared to have scored the winner with the final play of the match, only to be called back for a contentious knock-on.

It appeared the ball had been stripped one-on-one by English second-rower Elliott Whitehead, rather than dropped – allowing Fifita to continue.

However, he was called back by referee Matt Cecchin.

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

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

Saturday’s semi-final win came down to a clinical first-half showing.

Emerging with plenty of composure, the Wayne Bennett-coached England scored two early tries through Jermaine McGillvary and Gareth Widdop.

Tonga tried one too many times for the hail-Mary play, with Tuimoala Lolohea guilty on several occasions of wasting solid scoring chances.

The Polynesians went into the break 12-0 down, and duly conceded an additional Widdop penalty goal and John Bateman try to seemingly end the match.

But, in the spirit of their entire World Cup campaign, Mate Ma’a didn’t go down without a fight, putting on quick tries through Tevita Pangai Jr, Siliva Havili and Lolohea to get within two points – until Fifita was denied a last-gasp winner.

England captain Widdop was named man of the match.

Australia obliterated Fiji 54-6 in Friday’s other semi-final.

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