WORKINGTON, England - Unheralded Scotland have conjured a Rugby League World Cup night to remember, starting their campaign with a thrilling 26-24 win over Tonga thanks to Matty Russell's late try.
Facing a side of powerful runners packed with experience in both the Super League and NRL, the Bravehearts did not take a backwards step and got their just rewards at Derwent Park in Workington on Tuesday night.
Coach Steve McCormack enjoyed the time off from his regular job as a schoolteacher after his side squandered a 20-4 halftime lead but galvanised themselves sufficiently to snatch victory thanks to fullback Russell and the reliable boot of Danny Brough — who landed five goals.
Even then Penrith-bound halfback Peter Wallace's team had to endure a last-second video referee decision — a sixth of the night — to get the job done.
"We were never going to give up. That 'do or die attitude' and the crowd really got behind us — when it really mattered the team dug deep," McCormack said.
"We have got a bit of improving to do in all areas."
Tonga scored five tries against four, and had Micky Paea's 80th-minute effort ruled a no-try by the video referee, but were let down by some wayward goalkicking.
"A bit disappointing not to go away with the win. We wanted to (go for the try at the end) but it didn't happen. We'll have to bounce back," said Tonga forward Sika Manu, who scored two triers.
Tonga had a penalty for offside in the 79th minute, deep in Scotland's half, but decided to take a tap instead of going for the two points.