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Tonga stay alive in RLWC, US reach quarterfinals

November 5, 2013

LEIGH, England (AP) — The United States will have to change its departure flight. The Tomahawks are staying in the Rugby League World Cup an extra week after making the quarterfinals thanks to Tonga defeating the Cook Islands 22-16 on Tuesday.

Tonga stayed alive and eliminated the Cooks in a thrilling match at Leigh Sports Village.

The result gifted Group D to the Americans, who can’t be caught by the Cooks and co-host Wales, who were both winless. The Tomahawks, making their cup debut, made plans to leave the U.K. on Saturday, but now they have a quarterfinal probably against title favorite Australia on Nov. 16.

They Tomahawks don’t have to beat Scotland on Thursday, but the Scots are still motivated. They’re in a race with Italy and Tonga for the sole quarterfinal berth from Group C.

Tonga kept the drama going, but only just. Tonga led the Cooks by only two entering the last quarter, then winger Jorge Taufua scored to make it 22-16. With 12 minutes to go, his Cooks counterpart, Jordan Rapana, slid on his knees across the tryline, untouched, and cradling the ball in his right arm. But before he could touch it down, the ball inexplicably popped out and over the sideline. It would have been the easiest try of a night of great finishes.

Tonga opened the scoring through a converted try by fullback Glen Fisi’iahi, but the Cooks went ahead 10-6 with two kick-and-grab tries. Winger Chris Taripo caught Isaac John’s brilliant crosskick for the first, and pounced on fullback Drury Low’s grubber for the second.

When Cooks replacement forward Sam Mataora strangely played the ball to the Tongans, they quickly turned it into a try for Jason Taumalolo and regained the lead at 12-10. Samsoni Langi added a penalty, and just before the interval, center Konrad Hurrell left five Cooks tacklers in his wake in a 40-meter bowling ball run to the tryline.

Three minutes after halftime, Taripo scored with a dive into the left corner without an inch to spare, completing the cup’s fourth hat trick. Taripo even converted from the sideline for all of the Cooks’ points and to close the deficit to two, but the Tongans had the muscle for the final say.

Meanwhile, England dropped a second player from its squad, fullback Zak Hardaker, for unspecified personal reasons, while Samoa called up forward Tony Puletua, a former Kiwi, after the withdrawals through injury of captain Harrison Hansen, Reni Maitua and Frank Winterstein.

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