Tonight it was the Leigh Sports Village for the match between Tonga and Cook Islands,a game which a few reported referred to it as the South Pacific Derby.
The Rugby League World Cup may have escaped the radar in some of the media but this sport always known as a predominantly Northern based game has caused huge interest especially in Leigh my local town where the anticipation has been building for quite a while.
Tonga v Cook Islands was a huge coup for the Leigh Sports Village,Quite a few Tongans over the years have graces the turf at the old Hilton Park with Tau Liku and Lee Hansen being ones close to the hearts of the supporters,indeed it was Tau Liku who to my knowledge could be in the small minority of having played for both Leigh Centurions and Leigh RU, Leigh is a rugby town through and through and the town certainly showed how much this game meant as 10,544 people poured in through the turnstiles to enjoy this cold Tuesday nights entertainment.
Before kick off their was plenty of pre match entertainment,local children did various dance displays,a choir entertained and joined in with the singing of the two national anthems then the main highlight was both teams doing their respective Haka’s and both were impeccably respected by the crowd and opposing team when they lined up to accept the challenge.
Going into the game,Tonga needed the win to keep their hopes alive after losing to Scotland 26-24 in their opening match while Cook Islands lost 32-20 to the surprise package of the tournament the USA.
First half kicked off and a few minutes in Tonga went 6-0 up with a try from Glen Fisi’iahi who took a pass from Sika Manu who charged through the field which was converted by Samsoni Langi.
Cook Islands then came back a few minutes later when equalising through the first of Chris Taripo’s scored on 14 mins which he then popped between the sticks with the conversion before taking the “away” side into the lead just six minutes later as the winger went down into the left hand corner,after that try he passed the ball to Jordan Rapana but it wasn’t a good kick so it stayed at 6-10.
After this the match was well and truly open with plenty tough,hard tackles going in by both teams,this really was a Derby that had all the passion anyone would want to see.
It took a while but Tonga went back infront just over the half hour as Jason Taumololo held off the challenge of two Cook Islanders to make it into the corner which Langi managed to convert with a kick from a trappy angle.
After another two points were added from a penalty in front of goal then another try was added by Tonga from Konrad Hurrell as he went through the Cook Islands defence like a hot knife through butter,a quick check from the video ref gave it the Ok and the time half time hooter soon went.
HT Tonga 18 Cook Islands 10.
After the usual half time trip to the loo for some quiet time and pause for thought it was the second half ,this was still anyone’s game though,nothing was being taken for granted for either side as play resumed.
Indeed Cook Islands needed only three minutes as the pulled another one back as Taripo scored his hat trick by avoiding some tough Tongan tacking to pop the ball into the corner which he duly converted to make it 18-16.
After this it was a real battle with Tonga very much In the accendancy but as hard as they tried to get the ball over the line in a tough period the Cook Islands defence stayed strong and solid with a “Thou Shalt Not Pass” attitude which firmly fended off any chances of more points being added until just after 62 mins when Tonga scored what looked a dubious looking try from Jorge Taufua who went in the corner from a pass but it was hard see the actual grounded so the decision was handed over to the video ref who had a busy old time and after a good look from the various camera angles available the awarded Tonga the try although the conversion was missed it made it 22-16.
The match was not over yet and Cook Islands nearly made it level in an jaw dropping moment when a try looked 1000% certain from a cracking attack when Jordan Rapana had all time in the world to ground the ball,he could have nipped to the onsite catering to order a pint and pie but he went all butter fingers and dropped it like you would expect Frank a Spencer to do with a cuppa in his hand, The people of Leigh had never groaned as much in unison at anyone time in its history.
Cooks last chance came on the 78th minute when they scored a try which subsequently got the NO K from the video ref as the player had a leg out of touch.
Full Time Tonga 22-Cook Islands 16.
So a tough match and a real battle hardened performance from both teams here,playing their hearts out with a crowd that showed their appreciation for the two with plenty of love and respect.
This result now means the Cook Islands are out with a game against Wales to come to see who wins the wooden spoon for Group D and with the USA the group winners that one for many is the shock while in Group C Tonga still have a squeak if they beat Italy and USA beat Scotland,given what has happened so far anything can happen.
The Rugby League World Cup has been a very exciting tournament to follow,anybody who felt a bit of a lull in their lives after London 2012 should keep an eye on this,it’s one hell of an event and more than capable of holding its own in the sporting world.
My next match in this will be the Final at Old Trafford on Sat 30th November,before that four days of jumps racing lie ahead the main event being the two day Betfair Chase Festival at Haydock Park.
Below,myself just before heading in to the ground.
The Tongan Coach,not the human one!
Teams line up.
Cook Islands fan watches on.