The spectators that filled the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton NZ were always going to witness a full-blooded, high-intensity affair given the "war of words" exchanged between the two sides in the build-up to the game. With Adam Blair's scathing attack on Jason Taumalolo after the latter switched his allegiance to Tonga and the Tongan reply that they would "let rip" on Blair, there was already a pressure-cooker of emotion manifesting itself within both teams before they even took to the field.

It was a pressure-cooker of emotion that threatened to spill over as the Kiwis marched face-to-face to the Tongan line during their infamous Haka, with New Zealand's Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tonga's Andrew Fifita actually touching heads at one point before a shove separated both players.

Then, in dramatic style, the Tongan Sipi Tau - fronted by North Queensland Cowboy Taumalolo himself - took centre stage. It was a fiery performance that set the tone for the 80 minutes that followed.

The opening forty minutes

There was little sign of what was to come as the first half belonged to the No.2 ranked nation with Tonga's only points in the opening forty coming courtesy of Sio Siua Taukeiaho's boot. Meanwhile, the Kiwis, buoyed by some stern defence which kept their visitors tryless despite heavy pressure, began to demonstrate their flair and quality midway through the first half. First, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak produced a classy finish in the corner on 22 minutes after his centre Dean Whare had got on the outside of the Tongan defence, then, just eight minutes later, New Zealand's other winger, Jordan Rapana crashed over after a superb flowing move.

Tonga tried to respond and almost closed the deficit, but Daniel Tupou was denied - quite harshly - for a forward pass.

It was a decision that could well have been the dagger in the heart for the Tongans as four minutes later and with seconds left on the clock, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck gleefully snapped up an offload from centre Brad Takairangi to grab a try that, with Shaun Johnson's goal, opened up a 14-point lead.

The Tongan response

With a 16-2 lead at the break, viewers could have been forgiven for thinking that New Zealand would kick on and possibly put a big score on their opponents. But, whatever head coach, Kristian Woolf, said at half-time certainly worked as Tonga returned to the field determined to cause an upset.

Konrad Hurrell nearly provided the perfect response before David Fusitu'a scored his first of three when he leapt highest to claim Toa Lolohea's high kick and somehow spin and plant the ball over the whitewash.

The winger had his second on the hour mark following a last-tackle play that went wrong - or right. Lolohea had the ball on the last and looked to kick left, but with his attackers in front of him, switched the playback to the right where Hurrell drew in three defenders and sent an outrageous offload to Fusitu'a who stepped in side for a brilliant score.

At this point, the Tongan supporters - who outnumbered the Kiwi fans despite the match being held in New Zealand - were in raptures as the deficit was cut to four. This turned into delirium two minutes later as Lolohea intercepted a poor Russell Packer pass to storm underneath the posts to send Tonga into the lead 16-18. And, as the play resumed from the kick-off, the Tongan hymn being belted out around the stadium was enough to send multiple shivers down one's spine.

The comeback was complete - and then some - when fullback Will Hopoate snapped up an offload by the rampaging Ben Murdoch-Masila - who was a constant thorn in the Kiwis' side for most of the game - just three minutes later. Taukeiaho's successful conversion made it 22 unanswered points for the visitors.

Nervy end

New Zealand, quite obviously shell-shocked, did respond to make it a two-point ball game when Tuivasa-Sheck showcased his class, side-stepping and muscling his way through the Tongan defence on 71 minutes.

With the Kiwis peppering the Tongan line, desperate to break through, the atmosphere was electric as New Zealand fans willed their side over the line while the Tongan supporters prayed that their heroes would keep them out.

Tonga, however, determined not to be outdone, ended the game in the 77th minute as Fusitu'a registered his hat-trick after yet another brilliant offload by centre partner Hurrell. Final score Tonga 28 New Zealand 22.

New ground

It was a result that sent shockwaves within the Rugby League fraternity. One of the so-called "big three" had been beaten in scintillating style; it was the first defeat inflicted on New Zealand by a team that was neither England nor Australia since 1986 - when Papua New Guinea edged the Kiwis out 24-22 in the 1983-88 world cup.

A groundbreaking moment, Tonga had displayed the class, temerity and strength to hold one of the world's best at bay. Classed as 100/1 outsiders to triumph in the tournament, Tonga could now be classed as the team to beat.

With Australia seemingly lacklustre - as most recently displayed in their 34-0 victory over Lebanon - and New Zealand licking their wounds, with England failing to reach the heights many had predicted before the competition began and with Tonga playing with nothing to fear and surrounded by passionate and intimidating support, Tonga have the opportunity to make real history. A quarter-final tie against minnows Lebanon awaits and, without taking nothing away from Lebanon, this should be a walk in the park.

Then, Tonga will play the winners from what should be an exciting tie between England and Papua New Guinea. Although PNG has demonstrated remarkable improvements and with England not firing on all cylinders, Tonga, from recent performances, could well find themselves in the final of the World Cup for the first time ever. And, anything can happen in a final. It would be tremendous for Rugby League as a whole to witness a Tongan team do the 'unthinkable' and destroy the international Rugby League consensus once and for all and create a legacy which could open up new, uncharted territory for the Pacific Islands.