Winger Esi Tonga scored a 73rd-minute try to give Tonga a 22-20 win over Ireland in their Rugby League World Cup Pool 3 match at Parramatta Stadium.
|Michael Jennings makes a break [GALLO/GETTY]
Winger Damien Blanch scored three tries for Ireland – all when the 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 on Monday 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 coach Jim Dymock praised his side for winning despite being outnumbered for long stretches.
"In that respect, out of adversity we did well, but I thought our execution was pretty poor," Dymock said.
"Although we dominated, we sort of showed a lack of respect for Ireland and full credit to them, they came out and stuck it to us."
Blanch, playing his fourth Test for Ireland, said his side were "gutted."
"We went so close and to lose by two points is really disappointing," said Blanch, who qualified to play for Ireland because of a grandparent who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In the bin
Tonga started strongly and led 6-0 after an early converted try to Penrith National Rugby League centre Michael Jennings, but fell behind while winger Tonga was sent to the sin-bin by British referee Steve Ganson for repeated infringements.
Ireland capitalised, running in 10 unanswered points before Tonga returned to the field.
Blanch, the Australian-born winger who was marking Tonga, scored the equalising 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 their full complement restored, Tonga regained the lead four minutes from half time 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 half time advantage.
In World Cup matches next weekend, Samoa play Tonga on Friday, Fiji take on France and New Zealand play Papua New Guinea on Saturday.
Australia play 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.