The 2006 Federation Shield's opening game between Samoa and Tonga at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on Sunday, October 22 has assumed a double significance for both nations.
The 2006 Federation Shield's opening game between Samoa and Tonga at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on Sunday, October 22 has assumed a double significance for both nations. Besides deciding where competition points in Rugby League's newest competition, the Federation Shield, will go the result could decide whether the one or both of the two Pacific nations will qualify for the 2008 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand or not. Following the second round of games in the Oceania Qualifying Group that is currently being played in Sydney, Australia both nations are still in with a big chance of qualifying after Tonga's surprising defeat by Fiji. Two nations can qualify for the World Cup from the Oceania Group and, after two games of the Qualifying Group, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all have realistic chances of taking qualification berths. The Fijian Batis kept their World Cup dream alive when they came back from the dead to edge out Tonga 30-28. A vocal crowd packed into Western Weekender Stadium in St Mary's, Sydney, Australia to see the Fijians score two tries in the final six minutes of the game to snatch a vital win. Tonga led 10-8 at half-time before Hamilton Hughes put Fiji ahead with a 44th minute try. The Batis had a number of chances to extend their lead but were held out by the Tongan defence. Tries to Manase Manukafoa and William Tapai put Tonga ahead 22-14 before St George Illawarra's Wes Naiqama did well to step inside two players to score for the Fijians. Tonga looked to have sealed the game when Andrew Emelio crossed in the 71st minute. But the Fijians refuse to accept defeat. Semisi Tora showed great strength to crash over in the 74th minute and Semesa Codrakilagi put Fiji ahead when he stepped inside the tiring Tongan defence to score with two minutes remaining. In the other match, Samoa had no trouble in ousting the Cook Islands 46-6 after leading 26-6 at the break. Newcastle's George Carmont was at his devastating best, scoring a hat-trick of tries. The win by Fiji means that it will not be until the third and final round is contested when it will be revealed which two nations advance to the World Cup in 2008. If Tonga beat Samoa and Fiji overpowers Cook Islands, the three nations (Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) will finish on the same number of points. It will then come down to points difference.