It wasn’t hard to appreciate the magnitude of Tonga’s historic achievement in beating the Kiwis last weekend, but for one particular group it marked the completion of a job 22 years in the making.
Back in the 1995 Rugby League World Cup the newly-formed Tonga side came within a point of defeating New Zealand, leading the Kiwis 24-12 with 10 minutes to go only to fall victim to a late comeback which denied one of the greatest upsets in international rugby league.
Fast forward to last weekend and Tonga’s captain that day, Duane Mann, watched on from the stands at Waikato Stadium and couldn’t hold back the emotion as his modern-day counterparts this time survived the late scare and won 28-22.
“I got teary-eyed up in the stands as that clock was ticking down,” Mann said
“When the score got to 24 my mind did flick back to 1995. But this was a time to feel proud, and I am super proud of the team.
“I had my wife with me, my cousins were beside me, my brother who also played for Tonga, once we knew we had the game it was special.
“My first thoughts were for that of my late uncle George Mann Snr who started Tongan rugby league, he came up with the name Mate Ma’a Tonga.”
SIMPLY THE GREATEST MOMENT IN SPORT SO FAR! What beauty!!!! Had me all teary!!!! Thank you, Tonga 🇹🇴! Doing the Pacific so bloody proud! #TokoUso
— Pati (@guyfromsamoa) November 13, 2017
Aggressive back-rower Awen Guttenbeil, who was just 19 at the time he took the field against the Kiwis in Warrington back in 1995, watched last weekend’s match on TV and said it was impossible not to reminisce.
“It brought back some memories, seeing the jubilation from the fans, when the camera panned across the Tongan bench, the hope in their faces, it reminded me exactly of when the camera did the same thing across our bench with 10 minutes to go,” Guttenbeil said.
“I think back then and we were disappointed but we were so fatigued, it took a while before we could reflect and feel proud of coming so close against New Zealand.
“Last weekend was just amazing, really amazing. I feel pride knowing the sacrifice players made and for the fans who have been amazing.”
Meanwhile Mann expected Tonga’s World Cup journey to continue into next week, daring to believe they are capable of downing England in what would be the likely semi-final in Auckland on November 25.
“I expect the Tongan’s to progress through Lebanon in the quarters,” Mann said.
“If they get through this game, not just unscathed, but also squeezing a bit more form out of players, they will go into the game against England super red-hot confident.”
Tonga have now won three-straight Tests, their longest ever winning streak since their inception in 1995, and will play against Lebanon and in Christchurch for the first time this Saturday night.