While Engand won the first of the three test match series against Tonga last week, it was for from a simple victory and Shaun Wane knew that his side would need to be on top form again to avoid the tourists levelling the series in the afternoons game at the John Smiths Stadium in Huddersfield.
England went in to battle with Jack Welsby wearing the captain’s armband but with enforced changes with Saints duo Morgan Knowles and Tommy Makinson being ruled out through injury to be replaced in the squad by Warrington’s Ben Currie and Matty Ashton.
England were slight favourites for the win and were handicapped by four points on the coupon, the winning margin in the first test, but Tonga would need to dig deep to take the series on to a decider in Leeds next weekend.
It was England who registered the first points with just six minutes on the clock when Matty Ashton evaded a tackle to score in the corner after taking a great pass from Harry Newman. Harry Smith added the conversion from the touchline for a 6-0 lead, the best possible start for Wane’s men.
Smith added a penalty goal on twenty-five minutes to extend the England lead to two scores.
Five minutes before the hooter Ashton got his second of the game, this time winning the race to ground a Mikey Lewis grubber kick to the corner. Smith pushed his conversion attempt wide of the far post, England taking a 12-0 lead into the sheds at half time, the rain becoming torrential.
England bombed a chance to extend the lead on forty-six when Tom Johnstone failed to collect a grubber kick to the corner from Mike McMeeken when the try line was open for the flying winger. But a minute later Tyson Frizell stripped the ball in the tackle and Smith added the penalty for 14-0.
Johnstone prevented what looked like a certain Tonga try on fifty-three with a great last-ditch tackle but after back-to-back penalties Tonga bided their time with Toluta’a Koula crossing in the left corner on the fourth tackle for the first time in the game. Iasiah Katoa was wide left with his conversion attempt, a chink of light at the end of the Tongan tunnel.
Mikey Lewis almost crossed on sixty-five after a solo run from thirty metres out but nether side could trouble the scorers as the game headed for the fonal hooter.
Tonga scored the only try of the second half, and actually won the second forty as England’s only points came from a solitary Smith penalty goal.
Another solid England performance sealed the series win and sends the sides into next week’s third test as a dead rubber. Mikey Lewis was on form again, as was Harry Smith, and credit must go to Matty Ashton who picked up a couple of tries on his call up into the squad to cover for injuries. Tonga will fight for pride next weekend, England will be seeking the whitewash. It should still be a belter of a game.
England: Welsby, Ashton, Newman (T), King, Johnstone, Lewis, Smith (3G), Burgess, Clark, Lees, Bateman, Whitehead, Radley. Subs: Walker, McMeeken, Farrell, Hill. 18th Man: Currie.
Tonga: Hopoate, Tupou, Penisini, Suli, Koula, Lolohea, Katoa I, Fonua-Blake, Havili, Tatola, Frizell, Olakau’atu, Kaufusi. Subs: Teaupa, Fotuaika, Kolomatangi, Katoa E. 18th Man: Sele.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 8-0, 12-0 : HT: 14-0, 14-4 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: England.
Referee: Jack Smith.