6 Nov 2022
Five things we learned as Samoa dump Tonga out and set up England rematch
Samoa set up a mouth-watering semi-final showdown with hosts England at the Emirates on Saturday
By Josh Graham at Halliwell Jones Stadium
Anthony Milford hauled Samoa into a spicy semi-final rematch with England after they toppled Tonga 20-18 in a -breathtaking quarter-final.
Matt Parish’s men were embarrassed 60-6 in the tournament’s opening game against the hosts but will have a shot at revenge at the Emirates on Saturday after outlasting their fellow Pacific Islanders in Warrington.
Milford assisted Jaydn Su’a for the opener before Daniel Tupou responded only for Jarome Luai and Siosiua Taukeiaho to exchange scores to leave the match finely poised at 12-10 at half-time.
After the sides traded penalties, Milford’s kick allowed Brian To’o to extend the Samoa lead before Sione Katoa’s breakaway score teed up a nervy finish.
However, Samoa held on to claim their first win in three against their Polynesian neighbours and secure a first-ever Rugby League World Cup semi-final.
Here are five things we learned from Sunday afternoon’s spectacle in Warrington.
Passionate Pacific Islanders unmatched
The tooting of car horns, traditional dress and vibrant chanting greeted all those lucky enough to be approaching the Halliwell Jones Stadium even two hours before kick-off.
The party atmosphere was in full flow before a spine-tingling simultaneous rendition of the two war dances, Samoa’s Siva Tau and the Tongan Sipi Tau, got the juices really flowing.
You are always guaranteed bone-shuddering hits between these two and this last-eight clash certainly didn’t disappoint with a number of thunderous collisions.
The level of the celebrations for each score gives a hint as to how much it means for these sides to wear the shirt, one of the most special elements of the international game.
Rematch makes for spicy spectacle
Whatever the result, fans were guaranteed a rematch against England in the semi-final.
Samoa were swatted aside emphatically by Shaun Wane’s men in that 60-6 opener while Tonga were left smarting five years ago when their late comeback was not enough in a 20-18 semi-final defeat to the same opposition.
But it’s a repeat of the tournament’s opener at St James’ Park that will take place at another iconic football ground in the Emirates on Saturday.
There is no shortage of motivation for Matt Parish’s men after having their pants pulled down with the world watching, but they are a different proposition now having gone through the gears since.
England will be confident of if not a similar scoreline at least getting the better of Samoa having put together a near perfect first-half in the 46-6 triumph over Papua New Guinea in their last eight tie.
Special Suaali'i shines
Try stop Suaali'i!
Joseph Suaali'i with an incredible run to put Samoa in great position, before Brian To'o touches down to extend Samoa's lead.
This is some game!#RLWC2021 | #TONSAM | @BBCSport pic.twitter.com/9Fgz2SVW8Z
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) November 6, 2022
The abundance of top class full-backs is mind-boggling in itself but the fact three of the four semi-finalists play at the same club beggars belief.
Australia captain James Tedesco and Kiwi superstar Joey Manu have shown what they can do in getting their sides to the semis but today was the turn of their Syndey Roosters teammate Joseph Suaali'i.
Predominantly a wing in the NRL, Suaali'i was a force to be reckoned with in Warrington, racking up 231 metres and 74 post-contact, after turning down the lure of Australia to represent his Samoan heritage.
He consistently got Samoa out of trouble in the backfield and why Anthony Milford labelled him a "freak" in the post-match press conference.
Anthony Milford's career has had more twists and turns than most half-decent rollercoasters.
But this moment will rank up there at the top of the 28-year-old's achievements.
Milford pulled the strings perfectly for Samoa, using his experience to marshal the troops and finding the killer blow when it was needed.
A lovely short ball made the opening score before a well-placed bomb left Tonga in disarray and allowed Brian To'o to pounce at a crucial time.
When asked if the quarter-final victory was his most special moment in a Samoa shirt, Milford said afterwards: "Definitely, tonight we created history and for a small nation, I couldn’t be more proud for the boys."
England v Samoa round two will undoubtedly not be as one-sided an affair, but make no mistake about it - Shaun Wane will not be overly concerned by what he saw from his semi-final opponents today.
Matt Parish's men pulled off an impressive victory in the circumstances but consistently allowed Tonga back into the game.
England, by contrast, totally blitzed Papua New Guinea on Saturday with one of the finest first-half performances you are ever likely to see.
No debating the favourites
All of the pre-match talk surrounding the tournament opener was whether it was in fact Samoa who were the favourites.
That was the billing but they never lived up to it despite a plethora of Penrith Panthers' NRL-winning side lining up in the blue shirt.
This time there simply is no debate. England march on to North London as the favourites to make it to back-to-back World Cup finals.
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets