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The 10 best moments of the 2017 World Cup so far

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND — NOVEMBER 11: Tongan fans celebrate during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between the New Zealand Kiwis and Tonga at Waikato Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)
HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND — NOVEMBER 11: Tongan fans celebrate during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between the New Zealand Kiwis and Tonga at Waikato Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

THE World Cup is almost in the books and has provided the fans with scores of memorable moments.

Tonga's rise from Tier 2 battler to global powerhouse, Valentine Holmes scoring truly outrageous amounts of tries and the cultural challenges, they've all contributed to the next stage of international footy in their own way.

With only one match remaining, and it promises to be a good one, we're looking back on the 10 best moments from the tournament so far.

Ireland were among the unluckiest teams in the tournament.
Ireland were among the unluckiest teams in the tournament.

10) Irish eyes are smiling

Apart from England making the final it's been a tough old tournament for the northern hemisphere. Wales and Scotland went winless, as did the USA, and Italy's only victory was against the hapless Americans. France put up a great fight against Lebanon but their wait for a World Cup victory will now stretch beyond a decade. Of the Tier 2 nations, Ireland were the ones who kept it real.

Considered among the tournament battlers, Ireland enjoyed a great tournament on the back of their hard-nosed forward pack and cunning halfback Liam Finn.

Their upset win over Italy and the immense battle they waged against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby were showcases of their quality, and were it not for a quirk of the draw the Irish could have easily have progressed to the knockout stages.

 

Nobody loves footy more than they do in PNG.
Nobody loves footy more than they do in PNG.

9) Rise of the Kumuls

It had been 17 years since Papua New Guinea had won a World Cup game and things were always going to get exciting when the Kumuls got to play in Port Moresby.

The land where they love rugby league the most has been crying out for home grown heroes and thanks to Queensland Cup champions the PNG Hunters, there is a true pathway for local players to get elite training and coaching.

The result is the strongest national side in some time, and they made the most of it in their three group matches, running out big winners against Wales and USA and grinding out a win over Ireland. Each of the matches was sold out and each of the tries was cheered like it won them the tournament, regardless of what the scoreboard said.

The Kumuls will give anybody in the world 80 hard minutes in Port Moresby and their three home games this year could be the start of something great. For so long, the Kumuls were the whipping boys and this time they got to do some of the whipping.

 

Tonga gave their fans one last show.
Tonga gave their fans one last show.

8) Tonga staying on the field

Given the emotional rollercoaster of the match you could have forgiven the Tongan fans for being in a foul mood after their loss to England.

But instead the capacity crowd, who had already sung and cheered their way through the match, didn't let a little thing like a defeat get in the way of their good time.

For over an hour they stayed in the stands, waving their flags and singing their songs, and they were rewarded when the team formed a circle in the middle of the pitch and did the Sipi Tau one more time, with tears on their faces and kahoas around their necks, as the King of Tonga watched on.

Short of victory in the final, there was no more fitting way for things to end.

 

The Fijian hymns are always a highlight.
The Fijian hymns are always a highlight.

7) Prayers up from Fiji

The New Zealand, Samoan and Tonga cultural challenges are inherently aggressive in nature. There's a lot of chest slapping and bellowing and it's great. The Fijian hymn is something else entirely.

Spirituality is a big part of the Fijian camp - they do devotions every morning and every night and each match, win or lose, is begun and ended with a prayer.

Somehow, among 17 burly footballers, they draw out harmonies like you wouldn't believe. There is no stopping the tears when they sing their pre-match hymn, I Jiova, and it's still a must see no matter how many times you watch it.

 

Holmes scored six tries in the semi final against Fiji.
Holmes scored six tries in the semi final against Fiji.

6) Holmes gets six

As a rule, Australia aren't the most compelling part of the World Cup. They're always entertaining and seeing rugby league played at such a high level is always worth it, but there's little joy from watching the Kangaroos stampede over the top of their opposition again and again and again.

That is, unless somebody puts up a ludicrous number of tries.

Valentine Holmes had scored five times the week before against Samoa, he turned it right up against Fiji in the semi-final and scored six times.

It equalled the all-time single match record for most tries in a Test and took Holmes to 12 tries for the tournament, cruising past Wendell Sailor's old record of 10 set in 2000.

Scoring six tries, and 11 in two games, is the sort of thing that happens in the history books, the kind of thing that Brian Bevan and Dally Messengr and Dave Brown would have done, the kind of thing that only happens in black and white until Holmes created his own history.

 

5) Cedars rattle Mate Ma'a

The Tongans run to the semi-final was nearly up-ended by a committed Lebanon side in their brilliant showdown in Christchurch.

The fast-starting Tongans led 22-16 after an enthralling first half where play swung back and forth without warning, but the Lebanese rallied through some superb play from Mitchell Moses in the second half.

Abbas Miski raced over for a remarkable try in the 69th minute that was perhaps the best of the tournament - the ball went through 13 sets of hands as the attack shifted from right to left and back again.

A desperate final raid from the Cedars fell short and Tonga walked away with a 24-22 victory, but not before they received a hell of a scare. It was a fine way for the Lebanese campaign to end - they and their fans brought so much colour to a tournament that was full of it.

Lebanon nearly pulled off the upset against Tonga.
Lebanon nearly pulled off the upset against Tonga.

 

4) Bati win tryless miracle

The Bati got a little lost in the Tongan action, but they're a very good side and have been for some time.

Three World Cup semi-finals in a row is a hell of a run for any nation, let alone for one run on good intentions and some kick-ass hymns. They breezed through the group stages, running up big scores in all three matches, before facing New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

Fiji won in the most unlikely fashion imaginable, a 4-2 tryless miracle that secured their first ever win over a Tier 1 nation and no doubt was the cue for delirium in the streets of Suva.

The scenes at fulltime were nothing short of incredible. Fijians flooded the field, tears flowed like rain, Kevin Naiqama was happier than you or I will ever be.

A heavy semi-final loss to Australia failed to dampen the moment or the spirit of the Bati, who made the tournament their own.

 

When Tonga and Samoa faced off it was a sight for the ages.
When Tonga and Samoa faced off it was a sight for the ages.

3) The islands come together

After violent clashes between rival fans dominated the build up to the match, the two teams made the decision to perform their cultural challenges together.

The Sipi Tau and Sivi Tau are momentous alone, together they were unlike anything rugby league had seen before.

The two arch rivals, facing off, in front of a Hamilton crowd who were well and truly losing their minds, was vision that went around the world, showcasing that the action off the field is as important as the action on it.

The match itself was a winner, but the cultural challenges, which were a highlight of the entire World Cup, were powerful in a way that transcended the sport itself.

 

Fifita’s final attack fell just short.
Fifita’s final attack fell just short.

2) Tonga's near resurrection

Can you imagine what would have happened if Tonga's comeback against England had been successful?

Australia would have been rebranded as West Tonga. Nuku'alofa would have been renamed Tuamaloloville. Konrad Hurrell might have run for Prime Minister.

In front of a record crowd in Auckland, England were in control for 72 minutes as errors killed Tonga's chances of springing an upset before eight of the wildest minutes in rugby league history turned the world upside down. Tevita Pangai Junior, Siliva Havili and Tuimoala Lolohea scored tries in rapid succession, with Lolohea's coming from an incredible Taumalolo run that left poor old Luke Gale buried in a hole in the ground.

A final Tongan attack fell short in controversial circumstances and Tonga fell 20-18, but lost not a single admirer in defeat.

 

A new era began when Tonga defeated New Zealand.
A new era began when Tonga defeated New Zealand.

1) New Zealand dies for Tonga

A game straight out of a dream. The haka and the Tongan Sipi Tau, which was led for the first time by Jason Taumalolo, would have been a worthy inclusion alone.

But the match itself was a back and forth battle of stunning physicality and terrific skill. This was no New Zealand implosion - the black and whites came correct and they came to play. Tonga's furious comeback, highlighted by four tries in 17 minutes, and the final blow to David Fusitu'a secured a famous 28-22 win and validated the World Cup in a way no Australian, New Zealand or English win ever could.

This match was one of the greatest Tests ever played, one of the finest games of the modern era and a match that felt historic even as it was happening.

Topics:  rlwc sportfeature


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