Samoa have become the first Pacific Island nation to secure a place in the Rugby League World Cup grand final after a courageous performance against England infront of the host nation’s home crowd.
It was a game of footie with everything you could ask for. Fantastic tries, overtime, hard hits, a yellow card, back chatting and highly strung emotions that led to one or two erruptions between two world class sides. Fans were on the edge of their seats and checking their kokomaualuga as the final whistle saw a 27-26 win by the Toa Samoa over the might of England.
The Samoans went into the match as underdogs after the host nation thrashed the Toa by 60-6 in the Rugby League World Cup opener in October.
Since then Samoa have been building its side steadily throughout the World Cup with wins over France, Greece and then Tonga in last weekend’s quarterfinal.
Samoa came off the starting blocks strong and never took a backwards step until the overtime hooter.
In contrast to their slow start during the World Cup opener, Samoa looked energetic and quickly turned that into the first try of the match.
The Samoan forward pack led by captain Junior Paulo carved up easy meters for the men in blue.
This created a perfect platform for Samoa to unleash an attack on the left edge where Timoteo Lafai made easy work of Kallum Watkins before diving over to score.
Samoa’s early momentum was put to a halt when Junior Paulo was put on report and sent to the sin bin.
With the numerical advantage, England’s Elliot Whitehead screamed through Samoa’s defence to score England’s first try infront an ellated home crowd.
There was nothing really happening in the match when Samoa’s Ligi Sao scored the Toa’s second try.
It was an arm wrestle for territory when a penalty gave Samoa the opportunity to launch an attack on the England tryline.
Ligi Sao for some reason found himself at dummy half, and as a second rower, all he was expected to do was pass the ball.
Sao defied all his doubters when he threw a huge dummy pass that fooled everyone in the stadium including the English defense, before crashing over to give Samoa a 10-6 lead at halftime.
The English were the favourites to win the World Cup and they showed why in the second half.
Despite all the pressure on the English outfit trailing at halftime, England were clinical in scoring the first try of the second half.
The try that came through John Bateman gave the lead back to England.
Samoa found themselves chasing the game but the energy and confidence of this young team did not wither.
Lua’i, on the last tackle decided to dance with some of the English defenders.
He gave a short ball to a rampaging Junior Paulo who offloaded the ball back to Lua’i who then volleyed the ball over to Stephen Crichton to score a world class try.
The Samoans found themselves in the driver’s seat once again with a 4-point lead and it only got better for them.
Dominic Young, who scored two tries against Samoa in October’s pool game, dropped the ball cold and gave Samoa prime territory.
Right on the England try line, Lua’i found Tim Lafai who again shrugged off the tackle attempt by Kallum Watkins to score an easy try.
With an 8-point lead, Samoa had all the rights to run away with this match.
However a couple of handling errors in their own half put the Toa Samoa under pressure.
It was Herbie Farnworth of the Brisbane Broncos who scored for England.
Farnworth beat three Samoan defenders to score a soft try from the Samoans perspective to bring the match to 20-18.
Samoa’s 2-point lead vanished to a level 20-20 after England slotted a penalty from right infront.
The English, now having scored eight unanswered points, looked to have gotten their energy back.
England created a 4 on 2 overlap on their left edge. Victor Radley had every intention of throwing a try assist pass but instead of finding an English player, he found Stephen Crichton who intercepted the ball for a try to Samoa.
Leading 26-20 with just 5 minutes to go Samoa looked sure to win this match.
Then England threw a Hail Mary from their own try line and it worked!
George Williams sliced through Samoa’s defence and with a draw and pass, sent Farnworth away for his second try which sent the semifinal into extra time after the coversion.
In extra time Samoa were relentless as the English crumbled under the pressure of losing in their own country.
England dropped the ball clean and gave Samoa a chance to go back on attack, and clear the way for a field goal.
It was Milford who stepped up to the plate but the attempt was charged down by England.
The English tried to get out of their own end of the field but a forward pass gave the ball back to Samoa.
Samoa would make no mistake this time. The ball was passed deep to Stephen Crichton who made no mistake about striking a perfectly placed game-winning field goal to send Samoa to the GRAND FINAL.
The noise erupted across villages in Samoa. The famous Samoan warrior cry of cheeeeehoooooosusu was heard across the nation.
The streets of Apia filled with supporters tooting car horns and dancing on the streets while Samoa Police tried their best to direct traffic and not dampen the celebrations.
Samoa will face Australia in the Grand Final.