No question referee Matt Ceechin should have gone upstairs, if only to give Tonga fans peace of mind. Even more surprising was the referee’s boss saying Ceechin got it right and was in contention for the final.
If it had been me, I’d have said: ‘You made a blunder’, and not mentioned the final. Perhaps the Aussies don’t grasp how passionate Tonga fans are.
I arrived about an hour before the gates opened, and was met by a wall of Tonga fans. Usually it would take me two minutes to walk to the ground, this time I was stopped for pictures and a chat, so that it took nearly half-an-hour.
It was the same at every gate. I have never experienced anything like it.
Tongan fans have brought this tournament alive, ever since Jason Taumalolo announced he would play, and I have nothing but respect for them.
When the no try ruling did not get checked I had to take my hearing aid out, the noise was so deafening, yet there was no sign of any ill-will. Completely the opposite, Tongan fans greeting England fans with a smile and best wishes for the final.
Delivering the match ball was a humbling experience, and an honour I was grateful for, just as was hosting the VIP lounge, with the King and Prime Minister of Tonga in attendance.Plus many more dignitaries were in the lounge from around the world
I also hosted Gary Schofield, who played many times for Gt Britain, and after the match we went to the Stacey Jones Lounge, and 90 minutes later, there were still Tonga fans around waiting to cheer their heroes on to the team bus.
Hundreds more were on the streets on Sunday celebrating the journey, and protesting the result. As I say, certainly Tonga did not deserve to be eliminated with an element of doubt around their exit.
A salute too, to England fans, and there were plenty of them, because it is a long way to come and it is not cheap. I met with several groups, hosted by Schofield, who is an OBE, and another league legend in Paul Sculthorpe MBE, great blokes.
I told them to expect something different, and the Tonga fans did not let me down.
I have to mention too an email I got from Hamish Stenhouse: Hello Peter, it was great to briefly chat with you last week. I just wanted to say thank you for chatting with my son Christian at the stadium three years ago. He was then a very, very shy lad of 11, and you managed to not only hold his attention but have him talking like he has never done before. At now 14 he still remembers your chat and though still shy, doesn’t show it on the footy field (even though it is the 15-a-side game).
Anyhow, thanks very much for all you do as an ambassador.
I have to say I was quite touched after all this time to receive that.
My focus now is on the finals and congratulations to the Kiwi Ferns, who will play Australia in the final of the Women’s World Cup. I am off to Australia to cheer them on, so when you read this I will be settling into my hotel.
Before that I am attending the Golden Boot Awards for the players of the tournament, which all the teams will attend, and yes, even a cocktail function a day or so later.
I hope a few readers will take the time to send the Kiwi Ferns a message of support at [email protected]
I confess I do not think England can beat Australia, even with Wayne Bennett as the coach, but then again, I did not think Tonga could beat the Kiwis either.
No one is giving our girls much of a chance, so your support messages will help.
Go the Kiwi Ferns!
Sir Peter Charles Leitch KNZM QSM
Chief NZ Ambassador for Rugby League World Cup 2017