No justice for Tonga

Papua New Guinea 28 Tonga 28

For the second time in 48 hours, Tonga were involved in a spellbinding match, the outcome of which was not resolved until the last minute.

There would be no greater injustice in the Halifax Centenary World Cup than a side which has showed so much skill and passion going home without a win, but their exertions at Warrington on Sunday caught up with them at Hull last night.

Leading 20-0 at half-time, they were hanging on desperately at times as the Papua New Guinea captain, Adrian Lam, inspired his side's comeback. A crowd of more than 5,000 saw Lam start the revival by taking John Okul's pass to go over. When the diminutive Elias Paiyo darted over from acting half-back and kicked his second goal Tonga knew they were in trouble.

The PNG full-back, David Buko, got away for a third try and Tonga could have succumbed to exhaustion there and then had Leigh's Tau Liku not ploughed over to keep them eight points in front. Lam's clever kick sent Stanley Gene in for a try which again pointed to a PNG win, but Una Taufa's touchdown for Tonga looked to have put them safe as they staggered into the last few minutes. Within seconds of the end of normal time, however, Lam got his pass away to Lucas Solbat and Paiyo's fourth goal tied the scores.

There were few hints of such a tense finish in the first-half, as Tonga played with the same measures of vigour and virtuosity they had shown against New Zealand. Awen Guttenbeil went over for two tries, prompted in both cases by Duane Mann. Phil Howlett then scored by taking a weak drop-out quite brilliantly and running in from 40 metres.

When PNG failed to turn pressure into points before half-time and Tonga instead scored a fourth try through Willie Wolfgramm, it seemed they had the cushion they needed.

PNG now have to beat New Zealand tomorrow to reach the semi-finals. Lam said: "There have been shocks already and we feel we can produce another."

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Buko (Goroka); Kops (Mt Hagen), Gomia (Goroka), Okul (Moorebank), Kouoru (Rabaul); Gene (Goroka), Lam (Sydney City, capt); Evei (Goroka), Paiyo (Pt Moresby), Westley (Canberra), Tiri (Mt Hagen), Yer (Mendi), Mamando (Canberra). Substitutes: Solbat (Rabaul) for Westley, 44, Bai (Pt Moresby) for Gomia, 53, Reeka (Canberra) for Tiri, 53.

TONGA: Amone (Halifax); Taufa (Canberra), Vaikona (Hull), Howlett (Parramatta), Veikoso (Belconen); A Dymock (Moorepark), Wolfgramm (Narrandera), Masella (Illawarra), D Mann (Auckland, capt), Hansen (Widnes), G Mann (Leeds), Haumono (Manly), Guttenbeil (Manly). Substitutes: Finau (Canberra) for Liku, 77, Liku (Leigh) for Hansen, 38, Leilua (Otahuhu), Tonga (Kolomua) for Guttenbeil, 56.

Referee: C Alba (France).