Tue. May 28th, 2024
Tonga were cheered on by loud and lively fans in the first match of their historic three-Test series in England

England: (12) 22

Tries: King, Lewis, Johnstone 2 Goals: Smith 3

Tonga: (12) 18

Tries: Toa, Frizell, Koula Goals: Katoa 3

England fought off impressive Tonga in St Helens to win the opening match of their three-Test series.

Tom Johnstone scored twice in the second period following first-half scores from Toby King and debutant Mikey Lewis.

Tonga showed they will be no pushovers as the first Pacific island nation to tour England, leading early on through Starford Toa and Tyson Frizell.

Tolutau Koula added a late score for a grandstand finish, but England held on.

The series continues in Huddersfield on 28 October, before concluding in Leeds the following weekend.

England led through their first meaningful attack when Lewis made a brilliant driving run through midfield, beating three men, before switching to the left wing where King – a Grand Final winner last weekend with Wigan – was able to power over in the corner.

But Tonga responded brilliantly, and expertly worked tries arrived through Toa, after a slick passing move, and Frizell following a clever grubber kick.

Those scores put the tourists in front, yet England reacted when Lewis scored his first international try, shaking off tacklers with a bulldozing run to score – only for Tonga to pull level at the interval through an Isaiya Katoa penalty.

Shaun Wane’s side struggled to shake off the dogged Tongans, but the hosts regained the lead when Johnstone touched down in the corner following a brilliant looped pass by Jack Welsby.

At 22, Welsby became the England’s youngest men’s captain after being given the role because of George Williams’ suspension.

Catalans winger Johnstone secured the win via an interception and breakaway try.

Lewis shines for new-look England

These sides endured disappointing World Cup experiences last year, with both surprisingly eliminated by Samoa – Tonga in the quarter-finals and England in a heartbreaking golden-point loss in the semis – and they deployed new-look line-ups for this contest.

For England, just six of Sunday’s starting 13 began that 27-26 World Cup defeat last year, while Hull KR’s Lewis made his international debut, as did Leeds centre Harry Newman.

Lewis was the standout, and with his clever runs and immense physicality he indicated here that he could be an international star for a long while.

He may not have played had fellow stand-off Williams been available – he was suspended following a shoulder charge in Warrington’s Super League play-off defeat – but Lewis has now surely cemented his place in Wane’s plans.

Lewis was one of few England players able to really shine in a real slugfest against a Tonga side who combined physicality with some golden moments of play with the ball, before tiring in the second half.

Tonga brought several new faces too, including one more familiar – 2017 World Cup winner Frizell, remarkably making his debut for his third different country.

Born in Australia to a Welsh father and a Tongan mother, Frizell here completed a full set of caps for the nations he is eligible to represent.

His maiden Tonga try silenced the home crowd, and indicated the hosts are in for a real challenge during this series against a team who proved they are tier two in name only.

Line-ups

England: Welsby; Makinson, King, Newman, Johnstone; Lewis, Smith; Burgess, Clark, Lees, Bateman, Whitehead, Radley.

Interchange: Walker, Knowles, Hill, McMeeken. 18th player: Farrell.

Tonga: Hopoate; Toa, Penisini, Suli, Koula; Lolohea, Katoa; Fonua-Blake, Havili, Fotuaika, Frizell, Koloamatangi, Kaufusi.

Interchange: Teaupa, Tatola, Olakau’atu, Sele. 18th player: Katoa.

Referee: Liam Moore (England)

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