England vs Tonga: Kristian Woolf and Addin Fonua-Blake regret their series opening loss by a small margin.

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has admitted his side struggled to adapt to the English conditions, with a narrow 22-18 loss in the series opener on Monday morning (AEDT).

In the first of three clashes in their tour of the UK, the side travelled to St Helen’s and were put on the back-foot immediately, with Toby King crossing after just seven minutes.

Tonga would bounce back to take the lead through Starford To’a and Tyson Frizell, but three unanswered tries on either side of the half-time break was enough for England to hold and take an early advantage.

Tom Johnstone crossed for a double for the Brits, while speedster Tolu Koula was able to set up a grandstand finish with a four-pointer in the dying stages, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors. 

Kristian Woolf, Addin Fonua-Blake react to Tonga loss

Speaking post-game, Woolf remained positive despite the four-point loss and believes his side will improve as the series progresses over the next fortnight as they acclimatise to the English conditions on and off the field. 

“I’m proud of our effort, I thought that we showed that we’re here to play and that’s definitely the case,” he said.

“We are here to win a series and our blokes are gonna get a lot of confidence out of that. We’re a very new team and with a bit of footy in the legs – we haven’t played for six or seven weeks – they’re only gonna get better.

“We’ve got to get a little bit used to the Englih conditions as well, not just the weather and the field, but also the ruck and how slow of a game it is – we’ll learn from that and we’ll be a little bit better at how we deal with it.

“It’s a different field as well, it’s a bit heavier than what we get in Australia and I thought that showed at different times in the game. They just couldn’t quite get their footing and get their momentum that they get for big men.

“We know that Huddersfield is a good track, it’s going to be a bit stronger under the feet and I think that’s really going to suit us.”

Just one forward from the Tongan lineup – captain Addin Fonua-Blake – ran for over 100 metres, with the likes of Moeaki Fotuaika and Tyson Frizell struggling to replicate the impact they provide in the NRL each week.

But according to the skipper, the officiating certainly didn’t help Tonga’s cause.

“We lost the game ourselves – I don’t feel like they beat us,” Fonua-Blake told NRL.

“I went up to the ref and said ‘mate, it feels like you’re calling us off a lot quicker than you’re calling them off’. They were in our face a lot.

“Some of them they did win… others, it felt like it was a bit uneven or unfair.”

Tonga will look to regroup before next Sunday’s encounter in Huddersfield in a bid to level the series and take it to a decider in Leeds. 

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