Rugby League World Cup: Stephen Crichton stuns England and sends Samoa into historic first final
Sides finished level at 26-26 after 80 minutes in a pulsating clash at the Emirates Stadium; Samoa face Australia in the final at Old Trafford on November 19
By Marc Bazeley at the Emirates Stadium
Last Updated: 12/11/22 6:53pm
Stephen Crichton’s golden-point drop goal saw Samoa stun England and reach a historic first Rugby League World Cup final with a 27-26 win in Saturday’s semi-final the Emirates Stadium.
Samoa stood on the verge of an upset at half-time as tries from Super League pair Lafai and Ligi Sao helped them into a 10-6 lead despite having been down to 12 men temporarily when Junior Paulo was in the sin-bin.
Elliott Whitehead's converted try had kept England within touching distance - the hosts having also had a possible try from Kallum Watkins chalked off by the video referee for a knock-on - and John Bateman put England back ahead early in the second half.
Centre Crichton's stunning score and Lafai's second put Samoa in control, yet there was still more drama though, as Herbie Farnworth's try and a Tommy Makinson penalty drew the hosts level, with the sides swapping tries through Crichton and Farnworth again to send the match to extra-time before the dramatic conclusion.
Story of the game
Samoa had been beaten 60-6 by England in the opening match of the tournament in Newcastle four weeks ago, but there was no danger of that scoreline repeating itself from the moment the Group A runners-up took the lead with just five minutes gone.
They capitalised on a promising start when the ball was worked to the left for Lafai, who enjoyed an impressive 2022 season for Salford Red Devils and evaded the grasp of clubmate Kallum Watkins to finish for an unconverted score.
England then found themselves with a man advantage after Samoa captain Paulo, playing in this game after overturning a one-match ban from the 20-18 quarter-final win over Tonga, was sin-binned for a tip tackle on Tom Burgess.
Luke Thompson’s inclusion on the interchange bench in place of Matty Lees was the only change England head coach Shaun Wane made to his matchday 17 from the quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea. Chris Hill moved second on the all-time World Cup appearances list after starting at prop.
Fa’amanu Brown came into the Samoa team at hooker in place of Danny Levi in the only change to the starting line-up from the quarter-final win over Tonga. There was one change on the interchange bench for Matt Parish’s side too, with Spencer Leniu coming in for Martin Taupau.
The hosts were unable to capitalise during that 10-minute period, with Watkins' possible score being ruled out, but edged ahead in the 25th minute after George Williams burst through the defence and then released former Canberra Raiders team-mate Whitehead to score a try converted by Makinson.
Back came Samoa though and six minutes later they had restored their lead, with Hull FC forward Sao taking a pass from dummy-half and splitting Watkins and Dom Young, followed by sliding over the try-line for a score converted by Crichton despite the England duo's best efforts to stop him.
That proved enough to put the Samoans ahead at the break, but the host nation struck back with five minutes of the restart as a chaotic end to a set of six led to Lafai fumbling a kick from Williams and Bateman pouncing on it under the posts for a converted try.
The see-saw nature continued as Crichton crossed for his first try of the day four minutes later on the back of some spectacular improvisational last-tackle play from Samoa, with Jarome Luai heavily involved and on hand to provide the final pass basketball-style.
England 26-27 Samoa (AET) score summary
England: Tries – Herbie Farnworth (2), Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman; Goals – Tommy Makinson (5).
Samoa: Tries – Stephen Crichton (2), Tim Lafai (2), Ligi Sao; Goals – Stephen Crichton (3); Drop goal – Stephen Crichton.
Then Lafai seemed to have put Samoa firmly in control and on course for a place at Old Trafford in with a try in the 57th minute, punishing back-to-back errors from the hosts which saw Young drop the ball close to his own line and England then give away a penalty at the resulting scrum.
England were not done yet though and Farnworth was on had to ensure they made the most of a long spell of pressure on Samoa's line by powering over from 20 metres out and twisting his way out of a tackle to dot down.
Makinson converted and then kicked a penalty to draw England level with 12 minutes to go, only for Crichton to make it advantage Samoa again after intercepting a pass from Victor Radley and return it for a converted try with 73 minutes gone.
That stunned the crowd of over 40,000 at the Emirates Stadium into silence, but they were on their feet again with two minutes to go after Farnworth broke from deep inside England's half and outpaced the defence to score, with Makinson nailing the conversion to send the match into extra-time.
However, it was Samoa who were celebrating and although Whitehead was able to charge down a drop goal attempt from Anthony Milford in the first minute of extra-time, there was no stopping Crichton from clinching victory and sealing Samoa's place at Old Trafford.
Samoa go through to the final at Old Trafford on Saturday, November 19 where they face reigning champions Australia (kick-off 4pm). The Kangaroos booked their place in the decider with a 16-14 victory over New Zealand on Friday night.