On a historic night in Auckland, Australia showed their class in defeating Tonga, 34-16, in front of a 26,214 crowd, that were wrapped in Tongan red.
It was a night, that rubber-stamped Tonga, as a force in International rugby league, spurred on a harmonic partisan crowd, hung with the World Champions for a long period of the contest. but the Aussies scored a burst of points late in the first half, to secure the contest.
Australia showed their class in patches tonight, enough to wipe away the demons from last weekend. Doubles from Valentine Holmes and Tom Trbojevic headlined the performance while James Tedesco and Daly Cherry-Evans added four-pointers on a night that meant much more to Tonga than the Aussies. Tonga crossed thrice, through Tevita Pangai-Junior, Daniel Tupou and Solomone Kata in the second half as the largely partisan Tongan crowd made much less a defeat rather a celebration of their ascension.
Fresh from their shock loss to New Zealand, Australia established themselves on the contest quickly. Day Cherry-Evans scooped up a loose pass to make it 6-nil, quickly, the Aussies made it an even dozen, when his Sea Eagle team-mate, Tom Trbojevic followed through from a James Tedesco break.
Suddenly, Australia looked like their usual selves. They piled on 30 points in a prolific first-half, where Valentine Holmes continued his superb try-scoring record for Australia, with a double as the Kangaroos put their woes behind them, despite a spirited effort from the Tongan side.
The result was always secondary for Tonga. Getting this match against the World Champions, after their stellar World Cup performance legitmised them as a tier-one Rugby League nation, and the jam-packed crowd that burst into song, for large portions of the second half.
On-field, Tonga showed they aren't a world away from the top nations. A slight of hand sent Tevita Pangai-Junior across then Daniel Tupou made it 30-10 at the break. In the second, it included a sequence, where they held the ball for ten minutes, which ended with Solomone Kata slicing through for a four-pointer.
From there, the crowd harmonised, with hymns to lift their side. Whilst they couldn't repeat the dose of the World Cup semi-final, with a superb comeback, they showed glimpses when Michael Jennings went clear, but the final pass combined with some fantastic Australian defense denied them.
James Tedesco added some icing to the victory late on, as a swift movement down the left, ended with the Blues fullback slicing through to make it 34-16. The result will be a welcome relief for the Australians, who now, have multiple challengers to their title as the top-ranked nation.