Tonga fightback falls short against Roos

Matt Encarnacion
The Kangaroos have bounced back from a shock loss to the Kiwis by beating Tonga in Auckland

The 26,214 crowd prayed for a Tonga comeback - and it almost worked.

But the Kangaroos proved why they are world champions by overcoming a determined second half Tongan push to prevail 34-16 in their historic Test match.

The Mate Ma'a were behind by 20 and had forced the Kangaroos into a fourth straight line dropout when the sellout Mt Smart Stadium crowd broke into hymns.

And their prayers were answered when Solomone Kata crossed, instantly reviving memories of that near upset of England in their World Cup semi-final last year.

However, that was as close as the rising powerhouse got as James Tedesco restored the Kangaroos' lead in the 64th minute and effectively sealed victory.

It was the contest Tonga - led by former Kangaroo Andrew Fifita - had been calling for since just falling short of a World Cup final on the same ground in 2017.

And the fans turned out in their droves, with thousands lining up hours before kick-off to produce a sea of red and create a memorable atmosphere in Auckland.

Unfortunately for the Tongan throng, their side started slowly.

A David Fusitu'a error in just the third minute was a sign of things to come, and an early shoulder injury to halfback Ata Hingano didn't help either.

A stray Siliva Havili pass bounced for Daly Cherry-Evans to race 35 metres and post first points, Tom Trbojevic then nailed the first leg of his double.

The stunned crowd momentarily roared to life when Tevita Pangai Junior - arguably Tonga's best - rampaged through a gaping hole in the 16th minute.

But the steady flow of turnovers continued with Fifita's error from the restart.

Trbojevic grabbed a second and Valentine Holmes crossed twice - the latter resulting in a possible eight-point try after Pangai Junior was reported for dangerous contact.

Pangai Junior struck Holmes in the head with a boot as he scored, but the Cronulla and Queensland star could only land a penalty in front of the posts after he missed an angled conversion.

The bonus kick allowed the Kangaroos to lead 30-10 at half-time.

Holmes' brace extended his record to 17 tries in just 13 Tests - he joins Michael O'Connor and Wendell Sailor in 12th on the list of the Kangaroos leading try-scorers.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said his side had shown marked improved a week after being upset by New Zealand on the same turf.

"There were great attitudes through the week and they had to be to withstand the second half onslaught," he said.

"I'm really pleased by the effort of the guys. And again, I thought we executed a lot better than last week."

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said the match showed the difference between a side that had played three weeks in a row - as Australia had - and a side that hadn't.

"That first half in particular was a bit of a lesson in terms of what standards you need to be at in terms of discipline," he said.

"At times it looked like a team of guys that hadn't played footy, and guys that had three games on the trot to fine-tune some of those things."