Preview: Tonga vs England
Mate Ma’a Tonga will be looking to go one further and become the first Pacific nation to qualify for a World Cup Final when they play England at Mt Smart Stadium this Saturday.
No Pacific nation has ever made it to the World Cup final, but after a triumphant win over New Zealand and a resilient performance against Lebanon last week, Tonga are hoping to become the first.
Tonga have worked their way to this Saturday's playoff without dropping a game, and are now starting to realise their full potential says winger, Konrad Hurrell.
“It was our first quarter-final last week and this is our first semi-final as well - imagine if we make the final, it would be crazy,” Hurrell said.
"That would be good but we've got to knock out England as well to make the final."
But standing in their way is a determined English outfit which has lost just one match throughout the tournament after they fell short against Australia in round one.
England has been far from their best since their opening game against the Kangaroos but have enjoyed a smooth run to the finals with wins over, Papua New Guinea and Italy in their previous two matches.
Tonga has been one of the most clinical teams of the tournament completing over 80 percent of their sets in their past three games, while England has struggled with the ball and were lucky not to be punished by the Kumuls last week after completing just 57 percent of their sets in the quarter-final win.
But experienced English prop, James Graham, knows how important one mistake can be in such a high stakes game and is expecting the game to go down to the wire.
“It takes 80 minutes, sometimes 90 minutes to win a game of rugby league but only a moment to lose it,” said the 32-year-old.
"I am expecting the best Tonga team possible for the to play their best Rugby League, better than the performance you saw against the Kiwis."
“So I think what I can presume will be a tight game, I think that is the best way of going about it, really."
England coach, Wayne Bennett, isn’t underestimating Tonga and will field a full-strength side which is unchanged from last week’s 36-6 win over Papua New Guinea.
Tongan coach, Kristian Woolf, will also field an unchanged side from their narrow win over Lebanon last week, with the only change coming from, Sio Siua Taukeiaho who returns from injury and slots back into the front row.
But despite their strong performances, Woolf believes he hasn’t got the best out of his team yet and hopes they can put together another complete performance on Saturday.
“It is a really big achievement and special to be part of. The important thing is we have not reached our potential yet”, Woolf said.
“If we can play to our best this week we are certainly in with a really good chance.”
Tonga play New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium for a spot in the 2017 World Cup Final on Saturday at 4pm AEST.