REFEREE, PARTS THE RED SEA - A Summary of the Rugby League World Cup for our Pacific Island Teams
By Johnny Se'evae Kosokoso
With the semi finals done and dusted, the last hope for fans of a pacific team making the final for the very first time, went up in smoke when Mate Ma’a Tonga came tantalisingly close in the dying moments of semi final 2 against England. In what would have been the greatest come back in Rugby League World Cup history, the Tongan team had scored 3 tries in the last 7 mins of regular time, and had there been an extra minute on the clock, Tonga would have won the game, and the betting agencies would have been put out of business.
Yes it did end in controversial fashion, the match referee ruling a knock on by Andrew Fifita, instead of a one on one strip, that Fifita looked to have gone on and scored. The big question........... why didn’t the match referee go upstairs? The fate of the game rested on that one decision, and more importantly a call of this magnitude needed clarity for every one in the park to go home knowing one way or the other, that it was a knock on, or a strip (and therefore a try to Fifita).
We know what happened, and two days later there are still protest marches in Auckland city.
Which is a shame really because this has been a break through tournament for some island teams. Tonga has taken the lead in proving, yet again that an Island team can take on the big boys and win. This is in no small part to the “defectors” (Taumalolo and co) who made themselves available to Mate Ma’a Tonga, earning the evil eyes of David Kidwell and the Kiwi team. In actual fact many believe that the Kiwi’s tried to use Taumalolo as a motivation to win the 3rd round match up. Unfortunately for Adam Blair and co, the key was not in the wi. To be fair I think no one knew where the key was, least of all David Kidwell.
The Tongan team played their cards well in this tournament. They came in quietly and got down to the job of training and getting the basics right. Catch the ball and finish the sets. Off the field, they went to church, sang songs, ate well, and kept a humble camp. When tensions amongst Tongan and Samoan fans looked to spill over, they were on your facebook page telling their fans to calm down and increase the peace. The fans loved them, and they in turn played for their fans. All up, they had the perfect build up to this tournament and the results of good on field and off field training, became apparent on game days, where they muscled and then moonwalked themselves to the semi finals.
Another team that deserves a high five are the boys from Fiji Bati. Jarryd Hayne and co made it to the first semi final where they were smacked by a rampant Aussie side. And while the boys last game wasn’t their best moment, they will be comforted by the fact that they took the scalp of the highly fancied Kiwi team, who were odds on favorites to win that game. And while the Bula Boys didn’t have the same crowd support as the Tongan team, when it comes to cheering, 2 fijian fans are worth 10 fans from other islands. Like Tonga, the Fijians camped well, knowing what was at stake for the tiny island nation. These guys play with their hearts on their sleeves, and it showed after the Kiwi game, when many of them broke down in tears after the historic win. It is a matter of when not if, these guys will make a world cup final.
PNG will be another team who can walk away from this tournament with their heads held high. The Kumuls tumbled out at the quarter final stage to England, but showed consistency from past world cup campaigns. Again, this is a team that looks good on paper and delivers on field. They probably had their worst game of the tournament against England and the Kumuls might be thinking the quarter final was the one that got away.
Special mention must be given to the Cook Island Womans team, who with little in the way of cash still managed to field a team in the competition. Unfortunately you can’t run a team on donations of Cook Island donuts, so the girls done an amazing job of getting together and toughing it out to losses against Australia and New Zealand before upsetting England 22 -16.
Samoa, Samoa.........where for art thou Samoa? The original giant killers in this tournament, the Samoan team looked and felt a little under/over cooked. They came into the tournament with high hopes and big expectations, which unfortunately for the boys in blue didn’t materialise. Toa Samoa has always been known to play confrontational up front and still have finesse in the backs to turn teams on their heads. This year it looked like they were their own worse enemy. Lucky to make it to the quarter finals, they were humbled by Australia 46 – 0. Unfortunately there is no way to sugar coat this, Toa Samoa will be disappointed with this campaign, three losses and a draw are not the stats you want on your CV, and to be honest a few of these boys looked like they were a couple of corn beef cans over their playing weight. Some of the management and senior players will need a long walk on the beach to figure out how they come back into form for the next world cup.
If there are moments in this tournament, that stand out for all of us, it will be the Tonga and Samoa teams in a circle praying together before going out to pummell each other. It will be full stadiums of red and white flags. It will be Fiji Bati knocking out the Kiwis from the tournament, and sadly it will also be the controversy that ended Tongas march to possibly it’s first world cup final.
The good news is there are more positives for our boys (and girls Cook Islands) to take from this. The dye has been cast by Tonga, a good team on and off the field will deliver results at this level. And a good Island boy/girl who plays for Australia/New Zealand/Great Britain might be just peeking over to their heritage team thinking the same thoughts as Jason Taumalolo. And if that happens, then watch out world, the power shift will be brutal and one can only look at it and surmise that this has to be better for the game.
Points to ponder:
* If Tongan fans can fill out stadiums against New Zealand, why not give them a test match mid year?
* Can Toa Samoa find it’s groove again? Or is it another Manu Samoa with too much loose structure at player and board level? (board level for Manu)
* Will there be a waka jumping bill introduced to stop or make it difficult for players in Tier 1 to play for their heritage teams in Tier 2?