Hong Kong mark international League debut with inspiring fightback

November 7, 2017

Hong Kong Thunder mustered a brave comeback, but it ultimately wasn't enough to topple their more experienced Japanese opponents in their first fully-sanctioned international test match. 


The Japanese started stronger and took control of proceedings, with tries early on from Kazuki Fukushige and Itaru Matuso capping off some well-organised attacking play. 


A third came shortly after courtesy of Kenshin Tsutsui, after an ad-hoc last tackle play saw the ball bounce favourably in his hands before going in under the posts. 


Racing ahead at 14-0, Japan looked comfortable against a startled Hong Kong team.


At the 25th minute mark, Hong Kong Thunder finally settled into the game and returned the favour with back-to-back penalties and a repeat set on Japan's line.


The pressure soon told and Hong Kong's Ben Ryan wrote himself into the history books by registering his team's first-ever international try. 


Full highlights and interviews here: 


With the hosts finally on the scoreboard, the game evened up in the later stages of the half and turned into a real battle in the forwards, before Japan's Kohei Ishikawa forced his way over the hooter to take the score to 20-4. 


In what looked to take the game out of Hong Kong's reach, Koyoji Kitabayashi scored with an impressive acrobatic finish at the start of the second half, in what would in fact turned out to be Japan's last points of the game. 


At 24-4 with 24 minutes remaining, Hong Kong's 17-year-old half-back Gus Spence stepped up to weave his way through Japan's seemingly tiring back, which spurred his side to truly believe that a comeback was on. 


Buoyed by his heroics, Spence nearly worked his magic once again in the following set with a tidy chip over the top, although it didn't quite bounce favourably for Kin Cheng under the sticks. 



However, Hong Kong's third try soon came as Tavila Tanielu bulldozed his way past the Japanese defence, taking the score to 24-22 with just minutes remaining. 


Minutes that must have seemed like hours for Japan, as Hong Kong threw everything at their opponents and must have breathed a sigh of relief when the referee blew his whistle midway to halt a promising attack by the home side.  


Neville Metcalfe, Chairman of Hong Kong Rugby League, was delighted despite the score. 


"I'd like to congratulate both sides on what turned out to be a really close contest," said Metcalfe. 


"Hopefully it showed everyone here just how exciting and entertaining rugby league can be, regardless of at what level."


Hong Kong 22

Tries: Ben Ryan, Gus Spence, Toby Lei, Tavita Tanielu

Goals: Kin Chong (3/4)


Japan  24

Tries: Kazuki Fukushige, Itaru Matuso, Kenshin Tsutsui, Kohei Ishikawa, Royoji Kitabayashi

Goals: Dai Fujitaka (2/5)


Referee: Robert McDonald (Australia)



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