The Mal Meninga-coached Papua New Guinea Kumuls came from behind to record a hard-fought 32-18 win over a Tonga side featuring Raiders winger Bill Tupou in Sunday’s Test match in Lae.
True to their motto, Mate Ma’a Tonga which means “to die for Tonga”, the Peni Terepo-led islanders tested Mal Meninga’s Kumuls physically and mentally in a bruising clash at the Lae Rugby League ground in front of a packed house.
Kumul lock Adam Korave was stretchered off midway through the second half after being run over by a rampaging Tongan forward.
But the initial signs were good for the home side as Dion Aiye and Jason Tali combined to crunch Tonga fullback Wellentony Satini in the Kumuls’ first defensive set.
Tonga’s controlled aggression and better structure saw the Polynesians drag the match into trench warfare as PNG’s ball players continuously turned the ball back inside to runners hoping to dent the red line.
PNG scored the first try off the back of a good set which saw a fumbled bomb by Tonga land in the hands of centre Thompson Teteh, who set winger Adex Wera to draw first blood.
The Kumuls’ lazy defence in the ruck area saw the bulkier Tongan side captained by Viliami Manu, silence the crowd’s celebratory mood with a try by second-rower Ukuma Taai for a 6-4 scoreline.
Tonga five-eighth Samisoni Langi missed the conversion but his side managed two more unconverted tries in quick succession through Taai and centre Villiami Fine to push out to a 12-6 lead.
Kumuls drew level when Teteh laid on a try for winger Gary Lo, which captain and fullback Israel Eliab converted. The halftime score was 12-12.
In the second half, Lo grabbed his second after a fumble by the Tongans close to their tryline, which substitute Noel Zeming slotted to see the Kumuls regain the lead 18-12.
Wera bagged his second four-pointer, which Zeming failed to convert, after another Tongan mistake and PNG opened up a 10-point lead 22-12 midway into the second stanza.
Despite the heat taking a toll on Tonga, winger Bill Tupou got his side back into the contest with a well-judged try.
The fatigue finally swamped over the brave Tongan side in the final 10 minutes allowing the Kumuls to finish strongly.
Teteh grabbed a try to extend the score to 28-18 minutes before hooker Wartovo Puara raced 60-metres for the home side’s fifth and final try.
A pleased Meninga singled out Puara as his best and praised his side for winning what was a physical encounter. He said he was proud of the attitude his players showed under fire.
“I thought we hung in there really well and never gave up.”