Tonga have qualified for the knock-out stages of the Rugby League World Cup after a Daniel Tupou hat-trick helped them to a 32-6 win over a valiant Wales side.
The final score flattered the Pacific nation, who were tested throughout the contest by a team that didn't shy away from the imposing challenge. After holding the lead to the 35th minute, two late impromptu tries from the Tongan team changed the momentum at a pivotal time.
Wales got off to a dream start thanks to Kyle Evans, who has been playing rugby league for less than 12 months. He opened the scoring in stunning fashion, aiming up defensively on Tongan wrecking-ball Siosifa Talakai and forcing the ball loose, then offering support to halfback Josh Ralph on the break to score the opening try.
That effort sparked Tonga into life and they hit back soon through Daniel Tupou, but Wales held a 6-4 lead until the dying stages of the half thanks to some individual brilliance from David Fifita and Keaon Koloamatangi.
Wales could have shut down but they refused to go down without a fight, defending relentlessly. But eventually fatigue had to tell, with Tonga exploiting quick left-side shifts two more times to complete his hat-trick – his first at international level.
Brisbane speedster Tesi Niu also crossed for Tonga thanks to a remarkable jinking run through five defenders.
There's still plenty of improvement left in the Tongan side and they could have had three or four more tries had the ball bounced a different way at times.
They were denied a try even better than the Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr effort after Talutau Kola scooped the rolling ball off the ground, but the video replay showed the ball had touched a few painted blades of grass before the remarkable finish.
While Wales will likely rue the close of the first half, they can hold their heads up high thanks to a number of impressive efforts at both ends of the field. Evans was remarkable, regularly taking on the line but also facing up to the immense defensive challenge he faced in Talakai.
Caleb Aekins led a committed backline, while the Welsh pack didn't shy away from their highly-rated opponents. Young back-rower Bailey Antrobus put in another great effort after his showing against Cook Islands.
Ultimately, the tournament will end in disappointment for Wales – thought there are a host of positives to take from their efforts so far. But while Tonga have secured their passage through to the next stage, they'll still need to improve significantly to stand a chance against the likes of Australia and New Zealand.
TONGA 32 (Daniel Tupou 3, David Fifita, Tesi Niu, Keaon Koloamatangi tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 3, Siosifa Talakai goals) D. WALES 6 (Kyle Evans try; Matty Fozard goal).