England 20-18 Tonga: England to meet Australia in RLWC final
By Ben Proe
Last Updated: 25/11/17 1:52pm
England survived an incredible late Tongan comeback to reach their first World Cup final in 22 years in a thriller at an almost spiritual Mount Smart Stadium.
Winning 20-18, England earned another crack at Australia in next Saturday's decider - after Andrew Fifita's late effort was denied by referee Matt Cecchin.
Before a sell-out crowd of over 30,000, with a sea of red support including the King and Prime Minister of Tonga, Wayne Bennett's men took control with two early tries in the space of five minutes. Jermaine McGillvary went over - for the tenth straight match - as Gareth Widdop's touchline conversion sailed over via a post.
Widdop, who was outstanding throughout, extended the lead on quarter of an hour, after Tonga had been unlucky to have a Sika Manu effort ruled out; the St George-Illawarra full-back given the nod by video referee Ben Thaler despite a call for a double movement.
Widdop converted for a 12-0 half-time lead - but Kristian Woolf's men blew the chance to halve that deficit inside two minutes of the restart, when Daniel Tupou was unable to collect Will Hopoate's pass. Instead, a ball steal from Warrington-bound Ben Murdoch-Masila on Sam Burgess gave Widdop the chance to open up a three-score cushion.
England extended their advantage to 20-0 with 14 minutes left, a superb Luke Gale kick forcing the first goal line dropout of the game, from which Widdop put John Bateman over.
But a trio of Tongan tries in five minutes in the closing stages almost nicked a pulsating contest for Sika Manu's side. Kevin Brown's knock-on with eight to go was punished when Tevita Pangai Junior went over - and when the Brisbane forward was followed over the line by Siliva Havili and Tui Lolohea - Tonga had closed to within two with two to go.
In the dying seconds, Fifita grounded the ball for what would have been the winner - but Checcin ruled a loose carry, rather than a ball steal from Elliott Whitehead, without recourse to the video official. England progress to meet the red-hot Kangaroos in Brisbane next Saturday, seeking to avenge their opening 18-4 defeat a month ago