Tonga produced one of the greatest upsets in sporting history to defeat Australia in their rugby league clash at Eden Park in the Oceania Cup.
The Pacific Islanders came from six points down at the break to defeat the reigning world champions. William Hopoate, Michael Jennings and Tevita Pangai Junior all crossed the try line to deliver the greatest moment in Tongan rugby history. The result has sent shockwaves around the sport, and only the attention of the Rugby Union World Cup final knocked it off the back pages of publications further afield.
We’ll now look at the top 10 facts to emerge from the contest – in arguably one of the most famous rugby league matches of all-time.
- Australia’s defeat at the hands of Tonga was the first to a nation other than New Zealand and Great Britain/England since 1978 when the Kangaroos were defeated by France. That loss came in Toulouse on a tour of the country when Australia went down to an 11-10 defeat. The Kangaroos had also lost the previous match of their tour to Les Bleus.
- Tonga’s triumph was their second win on the bounce against a Tier One nation, having beaten Great Britain for the first time the previous week. They had previously lost all three matches against England, including their 20-18 defeat to them in the 2017 World Cup semi-finals. However, the Pacific Islanders had beaten Scotland twice in three meetings.
- Australia had played teams from the Pacific Islands 22 times in their history and had a flawless record until their defeat at the hands of Tonga.
- Australia had won their only previous meeting against Tonga by a dominant 34-16 margin in 2018 at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.
- All three players that scored Tonga’s tries in their victory – Hopoate, Jennings and Pangai Junior – were born in Australia. Koni Staggs, who notched two kicks through the posts, was also born in Australia – Sydney to be precise.
- Captain Jason Taumalolo played 10 times for New Zealand and prop Andrew Fifita played seven Tests for Australia before both players converted back to playing for Tonga.
- Australia full-back Jonny Tedesco made the most ground in the match, running for 191 metres, while breaking eight tackles in the process. Tonga’s most effective player on the field for metres gained was Daniel Tupou, who carried the ball 167 metres.
- Tupou was team-mates with Tedesco for the Sydney Roosters last season in their run to the National Rugby League Grand Final. The Roosters won the crown 14-8 over the Canberra Raiders, and are backed at 13/4 in the rugby league betting odds to win the title once again in 2020.
- All but two of Tonga’s squad from the contest ply their trade in the NRL. Ben Murdoch-Masila and Konrad Hurrell play in the Super League for the Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos respectively.
- Tonga will be a Tier One nation for the next Rugby League World Cup to be held in England in 2021 – heading one of the four pools in the tournament.