Tonga stun New Zealand to top Pool B
Rugby league history belongs to Tonga.
The island nation have become the first second-tier side ever to beat a top-three team in international rugby league, powering to an emphatic 28-22 victory over the Kiwis on Saturday afternoon at Waikato Stadium.
Led by a David Fusitu'a hat-trick and the brilliance of five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea, who had a hand in two tries and scored one himself, Tonga ran in five second-half tries to simultaneously assure themselves of topping Pool B and shocking the rugby league world.
New Zealand had sat on a comfortable 16-2 lead at the break thanks to tries from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and looked well in control, but were no match for Tonga's power, speed and passion through the second period.
Clinging to a 24-22 lead with three minutes to go, Fusitu'a sealed the famous result with a try in the corner, sending the 24,041-strong crowd into mayhem.
Earlier Tonga had opted to take the two points via an early penalty and maintained the lead until the 20th minute when Watene-Zelezniak scored his first Test try, before Rapana touched down on the opposite side of the field.
Inside the final five minutes of the half Tonga had a would-be try to Daniel Tupou called back by referee Gerard Sutton, and instead the Kiwis went down the other end to grab their third via Tuivasa-Sheck.
Trailing by 14 points, Tonga made a strong start to the second half, and after several sets inside the opposition 20 they got their reward, with Fusitu'a leaping high to claim a Lolohea bomb which made it 16-6.
Three tries in the space of six minutes saw Tonga storm out to a 24-16 lead with 15 minutes to go, as Fusitu'a grabbed his second off a clever Konrad Hurrell flick pass, before Lolohea picked off Russell Packer's pass for an untouched run to the line.
When Ben Murdoch-Masila palmed his way through and found Will Hopoate looming in support, Tonga were in control and the Kiwis looked dumfounded, but gave themselves some hope when Tuivasa-Sheck reduced the gap to two points with eight minutes to go.
But Tonga weren't to be denied, with Fusitu'a's try three minutes from time confirming the result and booking them a quarter-finals match against Lebanon next week.
Tonga 28 (David Fusitu'a 3, Tuimoala Lolohea, Will Hopoate tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 3, Tuimoala Lolohea 1 goals) def. New Zealand 22 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck x2 tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) at Waikato Stadium. HT: 2-16. Crowd: 24,041.