England claim series whitewash over disappointing Tonga as Harry Smith proves international worth
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The first instalment of the confirmed international calendar is close to completion on both sides of the globe, although there are questions to be asked about the support of the international game, with the three fixtures in St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds attracting a total 39,585 supporters.
That issue isn’t just on this side of the world, with New Zealand’s historic 30-0 win over Australia in the Pacific Championships final only attracting a crowd of 13,000 in Waikato.
But on the field, head coach Wane got his wish in the final test match at the home of the Rhinos, with Kristian Woolf’s side limited to just 26 points across all three fixtures despite NRL stars such as Felise Kaufusi, Tyson Frizell and Keaon Koloamatangi.
Wigan star Smith kicked 22 of England’s 62 points in the number seven shirt across the series, including a 100% rate from the boot during the final victory.
Ben Currie, Matty Ashton and Harry Newman crossed for tries while Elliott Whitehead also scored on his 27th and final cap for England, having announced his international retirement during the week.
Named in the centre for his first cap since 2021, Warrington’s Currie enjoyed the opening try on 15 minutes. Tom Burgess, Daryl Clark and Newman involved in the build-up before 23-year-old Smith raced away before finding a charging Currie in support, who still had work to do to beat Will Penisini on the way to the try-line.
Speedster Ashton crossed for this third try of the series just 10 minutes later to extend the lead, with Leeds centre Newman again involved on his home ground.
Smith shortly after converted a penalty for a tip tackle on returning captain George Williams to extend the lead to 14-0 on the half hour mark.
Saints forward Matty Lees and South Sydney Rabbitohs star Koloamatangi were sin-binned following a confrontation on the first tackle of the restart set, with Tyler Dupree introduced to the action for his second England cap just before half-time for Chris Hill, who came out a tackle second-best with a shoulder injury.
England led 14-0 at the break and quickly extended that with Tom Johnstone flying into open space on the left wing, finding Currie again in support before he fed the ball to back-rower Whitehead to score on his final England appearance.
It went from bad to worse for the visiting nation, with Konrad Hurrell sent for 10 by referee Chris Kendall on his first appearance of the series for multiple swinging arm efforts on Mike McMeeken.
Whitehead was denied a double, ruled to have knocked on a bouncing ball in the effort of grounding it.
But Newman wouldn’t face the same fate from the video referee, with his four-pointer awarded after collecting a pinpoint kick from Smith, who won the Player of the Series award.
Tonga hit back with 10 minutes to go to avoid a first nilling since 1999 – a 74-0 hammering against New Zealand - with interchange back-rower Eliesa Katoa crossing.