Samoa stunned hosts England to reach the Rugby League World Cup final with a Golden Point victory in extra time after a thrilling semi-final had ended 26-26 on Saturday. The Pacific Islanders, crushed 60-6 by England in the opening game of the tournament, produced a sensational display at the Emirates Stadium and sealed a dramatic victory thanks to an audacious drop goal by Stephen Crichton.
England had battled back from 20-12 down in the second half and levelled late on when Herbie Farnworth scored a superb try, his second of the match, from a flowing move that started deep in their own half. But Samoa would not be denied as they reached their first ever Rugby League World Cup final in which they will face reigning champions Australia who beat New Zealand on Friday.
England destroyed Samoa in the group phase but there was never going to be a repeat of such a one-sided contest. A fired-up Samoa made light of a first-half sin bin for captain Junior Paulo and losing both Fa’amanu Brown and Oregon Kaufusi to head injuries after a horrible collision to lead a sloppy England 10-6 at the interval.
Salford’s Tim Lafai silenced the home crowd to give Samoa an early lead, going over in the corner after Jarome Luai’s pass. England continually failed to make the most of promising bursts deep into Samoan territory and even when Paulo was shown a yellow card for crudely dumping Tom Burgess dangerously into the ground, their final pass let them down.
There was more trouble for Samoa when Brown and Kaufusi smashed headlong into each other and both left the field. England thought they had levelled when Kallum Watkins went over under a challenge from Lafai but his try was disallowed because he had not touched down properly.
Samoa were finally breached in the 25th minute when George Williams rode two tackles and passed to Elliott Whitehead to score under the posts with Tommy Makinson converting. Ligi Sao then punished some slack England defending to slide over with Stephen Crichton adding the conversion.
England were gifted back the lead five minutes into the second half when Lafai made virtually his only mistake of the game, spilling the ball under his own posts to allow John Batemen to pounce and score with Makinson converting. But Samoa were not finished.
They reclaimed the lead in incredible fashion as Luai, on the last tackle, showed great improvisation to flip the ball across to Crichton to score. England suddenly looked flat and a relentless Samoa side were soon in dreamland as Luai set up Lafai for a score in the corner to give them a 20-12 lead.
With their hopes on the line, England finally began to click and reduced the arrears when Farnworth piled through a wall of Samoan defenders for a try which Makinson converted before a Makinson penalty made it 20-20. But Samoa then seemed to have clinched victory as a pass by Victor Radley was intercepted by Crichton who ran unopposed from the halfway line to put Samoa within sight of the final.
There was another twist, though, as Williams fed Whitehead deep in the Samoan half and he sent Farnworth racing clear to score a try that Makinson converted to take an epic contest into the lottery of Golden Point. With the fans on the edge of their seats, Samoa got the first opportunity with a drop goal charged down but minutes later, from a similar position, Crichton split the posts to spark wild celebrations from the Samoan players and fans.
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