England clinch historic series win over Tonga with improved performance in Huddersfield
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Having made his international debut in the mid-season win over France, Warrington’s Matty Ashton flew back onto the international stage with a first-half brace in the victory alongside three conversions from in-form half-back Harry Smith.
Liam Farrell was called into Wane’s matchday 17 to replace the injured Morgan Knowles, having not featured on the international stage since the 30-10 win over France in 2021. The Warriors skipper however was only introduced into the action with minutes to spare for Elliott Whitehead.
25-year-old Ashton, named for Tommy Makinson who picked up a hand injury on his home ground, opened the scoring on six minutes thanks to some slick back-line play from Smith and centre Harry Newman in the build up. Wigan’s number seven converted from out-wide for an early 6-0 advantage.
Tonga threatened, with Manly Sea Eagles winger Tolutau Koula pushed into touch by opposite winger and player of the match Ashton before getting the best of Leeds’ Newman from a scrum play, only to lose possession with the try-line beckoning.
It was England’s Smith who later added two more from a penalty in front of the posts for a flop on former team-mate John Bateman for an 8-0 lead.
And Ashton claimed his second minutes before the break for a 12-0 cushion. The Rochdale-born winger utilised his pace to defeat Tonga full-back Will Hopoate to a kick to the corner along the wet surface from Mikey Lewis and ground the ball for a four-pointer.
The hosts came close to adding their third early into the second period, with the Tonga backs unable to deal with a high kick from Smith. Ashton collected the bouncing ball and found back-rower Whitehead, who put in a kick for free winger Tom Johnstone only to be unfortunate with a poor bounce of the ball.
However, England forced the mistake on the following set and were awarded with a penalty for a ball steal on hooker Daryl Clark, who played more than an hour without a break, with Smith extending the score 14-0.
Catalans star Johnstone, who scored twice in last week’s win in St Helens, later prevented two certain tries inches from his own line. The first on interchange hooker Dion Teaupa, supporting a break from half-back Isaiya Katoa, and the second on a charging Koula who looked certain to score, and later did.
Arguably Tonga’s player of the game, the 21-year-old outside-back was eventually rewarded for his efforts with a try in the left corner after a review from the video referee, with the back-line working together to open space. Dolphins’ Katoa unable to convert in a scrappy second half with the rain pouring down in Huddersfield.
Having scored on his debut last week and later providing the post-match interview of the year, Mikey Lewis came close to adding another to his tally before being dragged down just short by the Tongan defence.
But Wane’s side had already done enough, with two wins from two and the third and final test match heading to Headingley Stadium as part of a double header with England Women facing Wales.