Mate Ma’a Tonga mustered five tries under lights at Kaiser Stadium Saturday night, while the home team answered with three of its own.
In what, at times, was a gruelling rugby league international, the visitors proved that their higher world ranking was deserved.
The game was close throughout the 80 minutes and saw plenty of big hits by both teams. In fact, such was the nature of the physicality of the contest that players were left lying on the ground recovering after contact.
The Tomahawks struck first early on and established themselves defensively as planned. The home team had a 6-4 lead inside the final minute of the first half, but gave up a converted try on as a borderline call they unsuccessfully challenged that saw Tonga go to the locker rooms ahead 10-6.
On the opening kickoff to start the second half, the USA knocked-on at their own 10 meter line turning over possession to the Tongans, who took full advantage to score their third try for a 16-6 scoreline.
The USA didn't lose faith or get discouraged and worked hard battling back to 22-20 behind two more tries, but a fifth Tongan score sealed the deal.
“We had a number of chances to move ahead, but in the end it was too many dropped balls and a failure to execute when opportunities arose late in the game,” said USA captain Apple Pope. “The effort and desire were there, the execution just wasn't.”
Crossing the line for Tonga were Siafau Talanoa (2), James Tutuila, Petelo Tangilau and Sione Fakaosilea, while Pitikeni Fungavaka (3) and James Tutuila (1) added the extras.
For the Tomahawks tries were scored by forward Andrew Kniesly, fullback Kenny Britt and Vai Notoa. Matt Walsh added the rest by booting three conversions and a penalty goal.
“Amazing!” is how Rugby Hawaii Union secretary Shelly Nuner summed up the game.
“Tough one. Boys played hard,” added American National Rugby League president David Niu.
It was the first ever Test match of any code played in Hawaii. The USA is scheduled to host Japan next up, also in Hawaii, in June.