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Tonga have kept alive hopes of qualifying for the quarter finals after holding on to defeat the Cook Islands 22-16 in front of 10,554 fans at Leigh Sports Village.
Tonight was billed as an elimination contest in the second crossover fixture between Group C and D. Tonga and Cook Island played out a nervy opening seven minutes before the match settled down.
Tonga who had been disappointing in their first up loss to Scotland, were looking to start hard and fast. They found purchase down the right side with Sika Manu and Glen Fisiiahi combining to send the livewire fullback away for the four pointer.
It was the perfect start for Tonga but they were pegged back by the less fancied Cook Islanders with a brace to Chris Teripo. The Sydney Roosters young gun latched onto a chipped kick from Isaac John for his first in the 13th and doubled the dose in the 20th off a Johnathan Ford grubber. Cook Island led 10-6 and Tonga were looking down the barrel again.
The Tongans weren't going to let the Islanders dominate them though. They got a slice of luck through an errant Sam Mataora play-the-ball before sending sledgehammer forward Jason Taumalolo away down the right hand side.
If Taumalolo was the sledgehammer then Konrad Hurrell was the wrecking ball. The Warriors centre had made a name in the NRL already for his rampaging runs that scattered defenders like nine pins. Te Tongan added one more to the reel just before the halftime break fending off several Cook Islanders to send Tonga into the sheds ahead 18-10.
The first half was full of action between the two sides and the second half started off in the same vein. Chris Teripo completed his hat-trick five minutes in the half with a diving effort in the corner reducing the deficit to two.
To say the gap between the tries in the second half was an arm-wrestle would be unjust to either side. The two sides didn't take a backwards step to each other with some huge tackles flying in.
Tonga showed the class of some of the players within their ranks when Manly Warringah winger Jorge Taufua was given the benefit of the doubt on a good finish in the corner. It came from good pressure from the defense in line with the whole game.
Cook Islands had fifteen minutes to wrest a point away from the Tongans and despite getting some close calls combined with a comedic error with the line gaping by Jordan Rapana, Tonga held on. It was a valuable two points for the Tongan side who's fate goes into the air again.
Tonga 22 Cook Islands 16
Venue: Leigh Sports Village
Halftime Score: Tonga 18-10
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Chris Taripo
2 points - Fuifui Moimoi
1 point - Jason Taumalolo