Mon, Oct 22, 10:43am by Staff Writer
Australia and Tonga played their first Rugby League International on Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland and it was the Kangaroos who were victorious 34-16.
Amongst a sea of red and white in the stands, Tonga certainly had the crowd on their side as more than 26,000 people flocked to see Mate Ma’a play their lone international of the season.
Australia was looking to bounce back from a 26-24 loss to New Zealand just a week ago, with that final scoreline flattering the visitors.
The Kangaroos were down and out for much of that contest, with two late consolation tries making the margin appear more respectable than it was.
The new Australian spine combination featuring Damien Cook, James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Daly Cherry-Evans was given another week to gel and it paid dividends.
Coach Mal Meninga opted to retain the same side that lost to New Zealand and they started in sublime form on Saturday night.
Daly Cherry-Evans collected a spray Tonga offload from inside their own half to race away untouched to score the game’s first try in the fifth minute.
Some silky skills from centre Tom Trbjoevic ensured Australia doubled its advantage just five minutes later as the game looked to be getting away from Tonga.
With some rare ball inside the red zone, Broncos big man Tevita Pangai Junior went in as the Australian defence opened up for the front rower.
Valentine Holmes and Tom Trjobevic scored two tries in two minutes in the 26th and 28th minutes and it was alarm bells for Tonga, who were down 24-6.
Daniel Tupou acrobatically dove for the try line and just managed to score to keep Tonga in touch at 24-10.
A contentious decision right on the half time hooter allowed Valentine Holmes to score in the left corner.
The try itself was not under scrutiny, it was the play of Pangai Junior after the try was scored in making contact with the head.
The video referee deemed that Pangai Junior made contact with Holmes’ head with his boot, albeit with little force and that gave the Kangaroos a possible eight point try.
Holmes missed the conversion out wide but nailed the penalty from straight in front and Australia went in 30-10 leaders at the break.
The tide turned dramatically in the second half, so much so that Tonga had 53 per cent possession for the match after hardly seeing the ball in the opening stanza.
The red and white had eight sets in the second half before the Kangaroos touched the ball, as the visitors’ goal line defence was put under a stern examination.
It finally buckled when Solomone Kata weaved outside and then cut back inside to score a crucial goal for Tonga and it was game on again at 30-14.
Australia did not want to let Tonga get back into the contest and a series of poor decisions on last tackle meant the Tongan’s had bad field position midway through the second half and the Kangaroos capitalised.
James Tedesco produced a man of the match performance and grabbed his only try of the game in the 63rd minute.
Tonga fought valiantly for the remainder of the match but couldn’t find a breakthrough, but did themselves proud against the world champions.
Tonga had nine more sets than the Kangaroos, but completed at just 71 per cent to Australia’s 78 per cent.
Errors plagued both teams, with 22 in total and 14 penalties blown in the match.
Australia started 10.5-point favourites on the handicap and after the 10th minute, held a lead that covered the points start for the whole game.
The total points was set at over/under 44.5 and went over for this match, just as last week’s Australia and New Zealand match went over.
The remaining international matches this season is a three Test series between England and New Zealand that begins next weekend.
Many Australian players can now put their feet up for a month or so before they embark on their 2019 pre season campaign.
Clubs traditionally turn to training in November and December and the early market has framed the Sydney Roosters are $4.50 to win the 2019 premiership.
The Brisbane Broncos in Wayne Bennett’s final season are a $7 chance, while the Melbourne Storm who has made the past three Grand Final’s are priced at $8.
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