LUKE Douglas’ fellow Scotland Bravehearts told him his mother was smiling down on them.
Scotland, 500-1 outsiders at the Rugby League World Cup, scored their greatest ever win on Tuesday night when they surrendered a 20-4 halftime lead to a star-studded Tonga and then surged back to snatch victory in at Workington’s Derwent Park.
For Gold Coast prop Douglas, it had already been an emotional journey. His first trip to the ancestral home of the Douglas clan 12 months ago was prompted by his mother Trish having suffered a heart attack en route from Australia.
When in hospital in the UK, she was diagnosed with a melanoma and died earlier this year. Father Chris had been reluctant to return to the scene of so many painful memories – but when Luke walked off at fulltime in Tuesday’s boilover, his dad was there in the grandstand beaming.
“I talked him into coming – he’s brought a mate over and hopefully he’ll get a few better memories this time,” Douglas tells Fairfax Media.
“One of the coaching staff said ‘someone was definitely looking down on us there’. Mum’s up there. Got us through a tough end period and we snuck home.’
The Tongan side boasting NRL stars like Brent Kite, Konrad Hurrell, Jorge Taufua, Jason Taumalolo and FuiFui MoiMoi was left shellshocked by the unexpected defeat, which featured four of their would-be tries being disallowed by video referee Ashley Klein.
The most telling of these was right on fulltime, when halfback Daniel Foster forced his way over but appeared to be illegally stripped in a two man tackle.
“He tried to pass it, that’s how it came out,” said Klein. “That was the ruling.”
It was Douglas who fell on the loose ball. “I know you’re allowed, in the act of scoring, to rake it,” he said. “It was touch and go.”
Tonga coach Charlie Tonga was angry at the call. “I was actually at the coaches meeting the other day and that’s something (referees boss) Stuart Cummings mentioned – that if there’s a two-man strip in goal it’s going to be a penalty right in front,” he said.
But rival Steve McCormack insisted; ‘I certainly don’t think people can look at that game and say we were lucky to get any decisions.’
The first and last Bravehearts tries in a famous victory were scored by fullback Matt Russell, the former understudy to Sam Tomkins at Wigan who will return from a stint at Gold Coast to play for Warrington next season.
His 14th minute effort saw him leave Kite, MoiMoi and Siliva Havili clutching at air. His match winner, with eight minutes left, involved him stepping inside Kite and past two other Tongan defenders.
“My time in Australia did make me a more professional player but in saying that, I was at Wigan before and they are pretty professional,” Russell said.
“It was a great win to be part of.”
Scotland’s North Queensland centre Kane Linnett finished the game in the sin bin for a professional foul while Tonga’s Wests Tigers forward Ben Murdoch-Masila appears to have played his last football for the year after suffering a suspected broken leg in his first hit-up of the night.
SCOTLAND 26 (Matthew Russell 2, Brett Carter, Ben Fisher tries; Danny Brough 5 goals) beat TONGA 24 (Sika Manu 2, Willie Manu, Glen Fisiiahi, Nafe Seluini tries; Samsoni Langi 3 goals) at Derwent Park, Workington. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia) . Crowd: 7630.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD