Lebanon’s fairytale run at the Rugby League World Cup ended at the quarterfinals stage after a controversial 24-22 loss to Tonga over the weekend.
After the Cedars conceded four tries in the opening period, they limited Tonga to a solitary penalty following the restart and, but for two disallowed tries, might have found themselves facing England in the semifinals Sunday.
The contentious moment of the match came in the second half when English video assistant Ben Thaler chalked off a Lebanese try.
Some fine work from Mitchell Moses saw the Parramatta half-back find Adam Douheihi who appeared to score his second try of the afternoon.
But Thaler deemed Ray Moujalli to have obstructed the defensive line as Lebanon had their third score of the match ruled out.
Ata Hingano’s 53rd minute try all but ended the contest as Tonga established an eight-point lead before holding on for the narrow victory.
“I’m pretty heartbroken at the moment,” Moses said after the game.
“A few calls did not go our way, and a try opportunity. To be caught up with some calls that were not right is heartbreaking.”
“Every single player in that [Tonga] team has a full-time contract, and there’s probably five of us that do – to see how hard the boys worked and to be pulled up in that manner, it’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Veteran Robbie Farah was equally disappointed but praised his teammates’ valiant effort.
“It was a game that was there to be won and I’m gutted. We just could not get that try to get us in front. I’m just so proud of the effort of all the boys.”
A solid first-half performance saw Lebanon just six points behind their much-fancied opponents at halftime.
After securing their first-ever World Cup win following their group-stage upset of France, Lebanon were quietly confident of taking another scalp in Christchurch, New Zealand Saturday.
But they were quickly reminded of the sizable task at hand when Tuimoala Lolohea gave Tonga an early land after a rampaging run down the right.
Lebanon, however, quickly regained their composure to level the match through Douheihi’s try.
But Tonga’s pressure was increasing with every minute with a David Fusitu’a try eventually restoring their lead.
And Will Hopgate extended Tonga’s advantage soon after, collecting from Andrew Fifita before scoring from the left to seemingly put the tie beyond Lebanon.
But a comical try fashioned by Moses – when his kick ricocheted off the head of Jason Taumalolo with James Elias hovering up the loose ball – saw Lebanon trim Tonga’s lead.
Fusitu’a then scored his second try before Abbas Miski struck for Lebanon to leave the tie finely poised at halftime.
With both teams visibly weary, the second period lacked the intensity and quality of the first with Thaler’s decision the major talking point.
But despite the defeat, Lebanon will leave New Zealand with their reputation enhanced after taking the tournament by storm as the lowest-ranked side.
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