With England already having the series win under their belts, Headingley was the venue where they would seek to turn the screw, and deepen the pain, by making it a series whitewash against a Tongan side who arrived on our shores full of hope that they might cause an upset.
Shaun Wane had controversially swapped man of the series Mikey Lewis for returning skipper George Williams, the Hull KR man not included in the eighteen with additional changes seeing Currie in for the injured King and Mulhern for Radley. Tonga also made a number of changes, the most notable being the return of St Helens star Konrad Hurrell to bolster the centres.
England were still favourites for the win, but never underestimate the pride and passion of a south pacific islander.
A Tongan defensive mistake with just under three in the clock almost cost a Matty Ashton try but the defence reacted quicker and grounded the ball in goal. Harry Newman was held up over the line on seven minutes after a period of intense England pressure, Tonga managing to defend their line and keep England out.
On fourteen a great break from Harry Smith, off a John Bateman offload, saw him through a gap in the Tongan defence and allowed him to find Ben Currie in space to canter home. Harry Smith added the conversion to give England a 6-0 lead.
A Newman intercept knock-on after eighteen minutes saved a certain Tongan try.
On twenty-seven Newman made a try, rather than save one, as he put in the final pass for Ashton to go over in the right-hand corner. Smith added the conversion from wide for a 12-0 lead, the game going to plan for Wane and his charges.
When England were awarded a penalty for lifting on thirty-two, Smith kicked the resulting penalty goal to extend the lead to three scores.
On thirty-four Matty Lees was sin-binned after hair pulling in the tackle and Keaon Kolomatangi followed him after he ran in from a distance to get involved in the aftermath, but England held their lead until the interval.
The England players were queuing up down the left hand wide with Elliott Whitehead the man on hand to complete the try and dove over by the left upright, the second rower scoring a try on his final appearance for his country. Smith added the conversion for a 20-0 lead, the game now beyond the Tongans.
Tonga should have scored on forty-eight, but a sliding England defence thwarted them despite them having an overlap.
Konrad Hurrell was sin-binned for a swinging arm on fifty-six to further hamper his side, his heart ruling his head.
Whitehead had a try ruled out on sixty-two after the video referee decided that he’d grounded the ball with his wrist, but three minutes later England did brilliantly to keep the ball alive before a cross field kick from George Williams went into the hands of Newman who evaded the defence and slid over the line to ground. Smith added the conversion for 26-0.
Some consolation for Tonga came on sixty-eight with Eliesa Katoa taking the pass and avoiding a couple of tackles to stretch over and score. Isaiya Katoa was well wide with the conversion attempt, the margin still twenty-two points.
England ended the game defending their own line, Jack Welsby doing brilliantly to keep his line intact as the final hooter sounded a third England win.
There can be no denying that this has been a great three game series for England who came into the series knowing that Tonga would be far from a walkover, but who prepared and planned to the highest degree to ensure that the recorded three wins and improved on a week-by-week basis. There were plenty of great individual performances but what will most impress Wane is the way that his side played as a team and executed their game plans against a side who could easily have upset them with their passion and physicality. A great three game international victory to conclude a highly competitive domestic season.
England: Welsby, Ashton (T), Newman (T), Currie (T), Johnstone, Williams, Smith (5G), Burgess, Clark, Lees (SB on 34), Bateman, Whitehead (T), Mulhern. Subs: Walker, McMeeken, Dupree, Hill. 18th Man: Smithies.
Tonga: Hopoate, Penisini, Hurrell (SB on 56), Suli, Koula, Lolohea, Katoa I, Sele, Havili, Kaufusi, Frizell, Olakau’atu, Koloamatangi (SB on 34). Subs: Fainu, Fotuaika, Wong, Katoa E (T). 18th Man: Tupou.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 14-0, (SB), (SB) : HT: 18-0, 20-0, (SB), 24-0, 26-0, 26-4, :FT.
Lead Exchanges: England.
Referee: Chris Kendall.