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Samoa down Tonga in Pacific thriller

Photo: Robb Cox © NRL Photos
Photo: Robb Cox © NRL Photos

A fast-finishing Toa Samoa have defeated Mate Ma’a Tonga 18-6 as part of a thrilling Pacific Test double header at Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium on Saturday night. 

In front of an electric 15,255-strong crowd, Samoa took first possession, and then allowed Tonga to get on the front foot early when Tim Simona struggled to contain a high bomb from Tonga five-eighth Feleti Mateo. 

After requiring attention from a brutal Sam Kasiano tackle, Mateo rebounded to lay on a cross-field kick for winger Mosese Pangai to snatch from the air and ground in the corner. Solomone Kata slotted an impressive goal from the sideline to give Mate Ma’a Tonga an early 6-0 lead in a fast, frenetic and bruising first half.

Tonga held the momentum early, but when a Samisoni Langi grubber was collected by Tim Simona in goal, Langi came flying through to collect the Samoan fullback and landed awkwardly, leaving the field for what appeared to be an ACL injury. 

Nafe Seluini stepped into the Tongan halves, and Mateo continued to pepper the Toa Samoa with his kicking game, with Sione Katoa collecting a stray chip kick to ground the ball, only to be denied by the Bunker for offside. 

With 15 minutes on the clock Antonio Winterstein found the line for Toa Samoa, crashing over on the left edge with Fa’amanu Brown converting the try to lock up the scores at 6-6.

Errors crept into play, as knock ons undid scoring opportunities for both sides, and while Frank Pritchard claimed a try from a Tim Simona offload, the Bunker denied the try, keeping the two rivals squared away.

With the intensity of the clash not settling as the half wore on, Solomone Kata and Mosese Pangai struck up a running battle with Kirisome Auva’a, eventually bubbling over just before the halftime siren in an incident that saw Kata on report for dropping a knee in the tackle. The penalty saw Kata placed on report, and Samoa take the penalty goal to lead 8-6 at halftime. 

From the break, Tonga kicked early in possession and carted Matthew Wright into the in goals to force a drop goal, looking to establish the same dominance that saw them find field possession easily in the opening stages of the game. 

But Toa Samoa answered back with rushing defence, forcing Kata into touch to avoid a try. And as the Samoan side built pressure on the flagging Mate Ma’a Tonga, they put on a clean left-side play to Toa centre Ricky Leutule to slip through the defensive line and score in the 56th minute.

Brown landed his conversion easily, giving Samoa a 14-6 lead.

A stray 40-20 from Mateo that sailed out on the full gave Samoa another easy opportunity, with Frank Pritchard not quite able to cross the line for another four-pointer for the Toa.

With 8 minutes remaining on the clock, after being barrelled into touch to force a drop out, Tonga took the short kick off and regained the ball past their own 10 metre line, but regaining possession was undone when Tonga lost the ball early.

Samoa continued their fast finish as winger Matthew Wright darted from dummy half just metres from the tryline to barge over in the corner in the 76th minute, giving his side a 12 point lead just minutes from full-time, while another possible try in the 78th minute was denied.

Eels and Samoa hooker Kaysa Pritchard left the field late in the first half to be checked following a head clash, but returned to the field for the second half. 

Earlier, Papua New Guinea defeated Fiji 24-22 in a thrilling clash as part of the Pacific Test double-header.

Toa Samoa - 18 (Winterstein, Leutele, Wright. Brown: 2/3. Penalty Goals - Brown 1/1)

Mate Ma’a Tonga - 6 (Pangai. Kata: 1/1)