Winger Esi Tonga scored a 73rd-minute try to give Tonga a 22-20 win over Ireland in a Rugby League World Cup match at Parramatta Stadium on Monday.
Winger Damien Blanch scored three tries for Ireland _ all when then Tongan team had a player in the sin-bin _ to keep the prospect of an upset alive until the end.
In the 49th minute, Tonga five-eighth Feleti Mateo was sin-binned for arguing with the referee. Blanch scored his second try in the subsequent 10 minutes to put Ireland back in front, but the Tongans rallied again to regain the lead with their third try.
The lead changed twice more with Blanch scoring his third try to give Ireland a 20-18 advantage before Tonga's late four-pointer gave the Pacific island team the victory.
Tonga started strongly and led 6-0 after an early converted try to Penrith National Rugby League center Michael Jennings, but fell behind while winger Tonga was sent to the sin-bin by British referee Steve Ganson for repeated infringements.
Ireland capitalized, running in 10 unanswered points before Tonga returned to the field.
Blanch, the Australian-born winger who was marking Tonga, scored the equalizing try.
Ireland went ahead again when fullback Michael Platt was awarded a try by video referee Paul Simpkins despite what appeared to be a forward pass from halfback Karl Fitzpatrick.
With its full complement restored, Tonga regained the lead four minutes from halftime when Newcastle Knights winger Cooper Vuna touched down after regathering a kick from halfback Joel Taufa'ao.
Taufa'ao missed the conversion but kicked a final-minute penalty to give Tonga a 12-10 halftime advantage.
In World Cup matches next weekend, Samoa plays Tonga on Friday, Fiji takes on France and New Zealand plays Papua New Guinea on Saturday. In a match involving 1-0 teams, Australia plays England on Sunday in Melbourne.
Tonga 22 (Michael Jennings, Esi Tonga, Etuate Uaisele, Cooper Vuna tries; Joel Taufa'ao 2, Tony Williams goals), Ireland 20 (Damien Blanch 3, Michael Platt tries; Pat Richards 2 goals). HT: 12-10.