The historic clash between Australia and Tonga had it all, with over 50 points on the scoreboard, a controversial eight-point try and a near sell-out crowd.
But one thing everyone seemed to agree on was the incredible atmosphere produced by the underdog’s fans – and they even produced an incredible moment of respect by singing the Australian national anthem as well.
The 26,214 strong crowd at Mt Smart Stadium was an overwhelming sea of red and white, and the infectious harmony they produced had people talking.
As Australia held off an inspired Tongan side, rugby league fans took to Twitter to express their utter amazement at the singing that was broadcast for much of the match:
What a great honour for the Tonga fans to sing the Australian anthem.
Never seen a gesture like that before. 🇹🇴🇦🇺
— The Mob (@TheRoosOrg) October 20, 2018
I’m an Aussie but here I am watching the game and I find myself supporting Tonga, the passion from the crowd is infectious #RoosTonga
— Steven Larsen (@TheLarsWord) October 20, 2018
I'm awarding the game to Tonga for their stupendous massed choir!
Spine tingling!! #RoosTonga
— Wendy Harmer (@wendy_harmer) October 20, 2018
— Alex Perrottet (@alexperro) October 20, 2018
The people at Mt Smart Stadium are getting a two for one special, a international footy game and a Polynesian hymn concert #RoosTonga
— Dylan Matthews (@DylanMatthews91) October 20, 2018
#RoosTonga love the crowd, the enthusiasm, the spirit and the class.
— The forgotten one (@BradEdgerton) October 20, 2018
Stop the game. I just want to listen to the Tongan crowd now. 80 minutes of just listening to this crowd please #RoosTonga
— Talking Beard (@StrayBeard) October 20, 2018
This singing is magical. What an incredible night of footy ❤ #RoosTonga
— Alex Bellamy (@alexxbellamyy) October 20, 2018
This has gotta be one of the best atmospheres in sports history. The singing! It sounds like a multi-harmony choir. Amazing. #RoosTonga
— Joel Kulasingham (@joelkula) October 20, 2018
At times, it was difficult to hear the commentators over the blaring chorus – one could only imagine what the players could hear.
Australia prevailed 34-16 over a resilient Tongan outfit, but their singing fans would be proud of their efforts regardless – and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed from either side.
“What a crowd,” Australian skipper Boyd Cordner said after the match.
“It’s all about growing the game and look at this. This is what rugby league is all about, it was a pleasure to play in front of all of you tonight.
“It is an experience we haven’t experienced before.”
When the post-match commentator noted the Tongan supporters had even sung the Australian national anthem as well, Cordner said it was incredibly humbling.
“That’s been the case all week with the Tongan supporters, they’re all about respect and we respect that as a country, so thank you very much,” Cordner said.
Tongan captain Sika Manu mirrored Cordner’s approach to the fans, first speaking in his native tongue before translating to English for viewers.
“Thank you very much guys, your support does not go unnoticed,” Sika Manu said.
Tonga fightback falls short against the Roos
In the end the Kangaroos proved why they are the world champions by overcoming a second half fightback to prevail 34-16 in their historic Test match.
The Mate Ma’a were behind by 20 and had forced the Kangaroos into a fourth straight line dropout when the sellout Mt Smart Stadium crowd broke into hymns.
And their prayers were answered when Solomone Kata crossed, instantly reviving memories of their near upset of England in their World Cup semi-final last year.
However, that was as close as the rising powerhouse got as James Tedesco restored the Kangaroos’ lead in the 64th minute and effectively sealed victory.
It was the contest Tonga players – led by former Kangaroos star Andrew Fifita -had been calling for since falling two points short of a fairytale World Cup final on the same ground last year.
And the fans turned out in their droves, with thousands lining up hours before kick-off to produce a sea of red and create a memorable atmosphere in Auckland.
Unfortunately for the “home” side, their side started slowly.
A David Fusitu’a error in just the third minute was a sign of things to come, and an early shoulder injury to halfback Ata Hingano didn’t help either.
A stray Siliva Havili pass bounced perfectly for Daly Cherry-Evans to race 35 metres and post first points, and his score was quickly followed by the first leg of Tom Trbojevic’s double.
The stunned crowd momentarily roared to life when Tevita Pangai Junior – arguably Tonga’s best – rampaged through a gaping hole in the 16th minute.
But the steady flow of turnovers continued with Fifita’s error from the restart.
Trbojevic grabbed a second and Valentine Holmes crossed twice – the latter resulting in a possible eight-point try after Pangai Junior was reported for dangerous contact.
Pangai Junior struck Holmes in the head with a boot as he scored, but the Cronulla and Queensland star could only land a penalty in front of the posts after he missed an angled conversion.
The bonus kick allowed the Kangaroos to lead 30-10 at half-time.
Holmes’ brace extended his record to 17 tries in just 13 Tests, he joins Michael O’Connor and Wendell Sailor in 12th on the list of the Kangaroos leading try-scorers.