13 Nov 2017

Legions of Tonga fans believe team can go all the way

5:52 am on 13 November 2017

Tonga's historic win over New Zealand at the Rugby League World Cup on Saturday made "dreams come true" and the inspiring victory has fans wanting more.

William Hopoate Senior is proud of his son and the Tongan team.

William Hopoate Senior is proud of his son and the Tongan team. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Tonga became the first tier-two rugby league nation in history to defeat a tier-one nation, beating the Kiwis 28-22 with an audacious second-half display in Hamilton.

"I'm so excited, it's made my dreams come true," said the grandfather of Tongan try-scorer William Hopoate after the game.

William Hopoate Senior said he now hoped the Tongan side could take out the World Cup title.

The sold-out clash wasn't expected to be an upset, but after the Mate Ma'a Tonga team and their fans got on a roll in the second half the Kiwis struggled to respond.

Local Tonga supporter JJ Havea said the players lived up to the team's name, Mate Ma'a Tonga - Die for Tonga.

"All the support of the nation, the pride what they have inside them, their parents, their family. Money comes last to them... Tonga comes first."

While some Kiwi fans started filing out while the game was still in play, those who stuck around joined in the celebrations.

Summer Moa (left) with a new found appreciation of the Tonga team.

Summer Moa (left) with a new found appreciation of the Tonga team. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Summer Moa said she wasn't too fussed the Kiwis lost to Tonga.

"Who even cares if Tonga won. They had mean support that was awesome. As long as all those Tongans remember where they live... in New Zealand!" she said, laughing.

Tension was expected to be high at the game, given that just hours before New Zealand named their World Cup squad, four players, including superstar Jason Taumalolo, defected from the Kiwis to play for their motherland.

One of them, David Fusitu'a, scored a hattrick against his former team.

Sio Siua Taukeiaho, who also made the move and got some points on the board, said beating New Zealand was a huge deal especially for an island nation like Tonga.

"Most Pacific islanders end up playing for the tier-one teams and for us to come and play back for Tonga and end up beating New Zealand, it's a great thing for us."

It was all for the fans at the sold-out venue, he said.

"All that hard work goes towards them for all the support and paying for the tickets, which is pretty expensive. It was just awesome to have them all there supporting us."

Headlining Tongan lock, Jason Taumalolo, who turned his back on the Kiwis to embrace his Tongan heritage, admitted the night wasn't easy.

Jason Taumalolo among the fans.

Jason Taumalolo among the fans. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

"It [was] a pretty emotional game for myself obviously playing against a country I was born in. I knew it would be a big game... that's when the best players tend to step up and I wanted to be a part of it."

He said the players were motivated to lift their performance after the game against Samoa the previous weekend.

"All the fans that just all turned up... them singing songs after scoring a try and us feeling all the goosebumps."

Tongan fan Eleanor Lolo (right).

Tongan fan Eleanor Lolo (right). Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

A lot of supporters admitted they weren't league followers before the Tongan team got them hooked.

Eleanor Lolo said she now knew the difference between rugby union and rugby league.

"We didn't know until [we came] to support our country and had the opportunity to learn the difference."

Tongans liked to support their country, she said.

"Even though we're not related to any of the players we're here to support them. It doesn't matter if they win or lose we'll still be proud Tongans."

The Kiwis will now face Fiji in Wellington and Tonga is likely to meet Lebanon in Christchurch.

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