Tonga are too good to build a World Cup on miracles

In the last World Cup, Tonga was a giant-slayer.

But this time around it is a Goliath and against Papua New Guinea it very nearly found its David.

In the match of the tournament so far, Tonga snuck home 24-18 against PNG in St Helens in a measure of how far the Kumuls have come and how far the Mate Ma’a still has to go.

If the Kumuls had managed to sneak home it might not have quite counted as a miracle but the try that beat them certainly felt like the work of a higher power. Keaon Koloamatangi’s 77th-minute score came after eight passes and a kick and saved Tonga’s faces turning as red as their jerseys.

Because it was not supposed to be this way. After all the hype and disappointment of Samoa’s crushing loss to England last week, this was supposed to be a reminder of Tonga’s quality and its true ambitions to give another World Cup a real shake.

The wave of defections back in 2017 transformed Tonga into a Test football powerhouse overnight and since then the side has collected wins over New Zealand, Great Britain and Australia. With the players at their disposal, there should be no limit to what they can achieve.

The talent isn’t just on the field either. While Samoan coach Matt Parish is under fire, Tongan mentor Kristian Woolf’s credentials are beyond reproach following three-straight premierships with St Helens.

Even with captain Jason Taumalolo suspended, Tonga had a side so stacked there were three players with State of Origin experience on the bench.

Only a fool would take Papua New Guinea lightly – the Kumuls players like to say their jersey is their second skin, and they play with a passion and intensity to make you believe it – but Tonga wasn’t supposed to need a miracle try to win. This was meant to be a showcase of Tongan power.

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