Grant Chapman: Tongan World Cup run nice while it lasted, now back to reality

OPINION: Step aside, Tongan fans - it's time for your Rugby League World Cup dream to end gracefully.

Actually, that time came about three days ago, but your silly protests and legal letters have since taken some of the lustre off your team's tremendous performance on the field.

Sure, Tonga's run through the tournament didn't culminate the way most of us wanted. We all love a Cinderella story - that fairy-tale plotline that ends happily ever after for the good guys.

But here's the reality - if you want to play with the big boys of world sport, you're going to get screwed every now and then.

Deal with it.

To be fair, this is one of those rare times Tonga has found itself on the main stage at this level, so perhaps its supporters can be excused a little naivety over how these things work.

The players themselves are fairly experienced professionals and have probably accepted their fate far better than their fans. They've seen it before and they're already back in Tonga, reflecting on and hopefully enjoying their achievements over the past month.

To recap, after sweeping aside the NZ Kiwis (among others) on their way to the World Cup semi-finals, the Mate Ma'a saw their hopes shattered in the final play of the game against England.

Scoring three tries in quick succession over the closing stages, they were denied a fourth, when forward Andrew Fifita had the ball dislodged from his grasp just metres from the goal-line and referee Aussie Matt Cecchin ruled a knock on.

Fifita regathered to touch down and then insisted that the ball had been stripped by a defender, but Cecchin was pretty certain of what he had seen and refused to send the decision for TV review.

That was his mistake. The ruling itself was probably correct and was later vindicated by the RLWC officiating unit, but he failed to extend Tonga the courtesy of that review.

No-one likes to lose a semi-final, especially if you're within centimetres of glory and finishing the contest with a full head of steam - but, hey, shit happens. That's part of sport.

It's part of life.

During this tournament, we've been asked to cut Tongan fans considerable slack, because they are passionate and want to support their team to the hilt. They have certainly helped deliver the event's most heart-warming moments, but they've also provided its ugliest public scenes with their over-enthusiastic 'celebrations'.

Unfortunately, their actions over the past three days have exposed them - maybe a very visible minority of them - as poor losers.

Even a dysfunctional organisation like the Rugby League International Federation was never likely to bow to flag waving and a sternly worded legal submission.

Now, we Kiwis know a bit about playing the part of underdogs, getting shafted on the world stage and - often - losing poorly.

Consider these examples:

NZ v Australia, World Series cricket, 1981

The infamous 'underarm' climax at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where New Zealand needed a last-ball six to draw and Aussie captain Greg Chappell told brother Trevor to roll his delivery along the ground to Kiwi all-rounder Brian McKechnie, who threw his bat away in disgust.

Trevor Chappell delivers the 'underarm' to Brian McKechnie. Photo credit: Photosport

Lord, we've never got over this - it sent trans-Tasman relations to a new low and every year, we continue to commemorate this despicable act.

NZ v South Africa, Rugby World Cup final, 1995

After sweeping through the tournament in dominant fashion, the All Blacks reached the final, but half of their players fell mysteriously ill on the eve of the game. Coach Laurie Mains blamed 'Susie the waitress' for the conspiracy to poison his team.

The Mandela-inspired Springboks eventually prevailed in extra time and Susie has become a national symbol of our own inability to accept defeat.

All Blacks
All Blacks regroup during 1995 World Cup final. Photo credit: Photosport

NZ v France, Rugby World Cup quarter-final, 2007

Yes, the Rugby World Cup has tormented us over the years. This time, All Blacks coach Graham Henry employed a controversial 'rest and rotation' policy to preserve his top players for the business end of the tournament, only to fall to those dastardly French in Cardiff.

English referee Wayne Barnes was panned for missing an alleged forward pass during one of the French tries - presumably his linesmen missed it too - and we still shake in our boots every time he is assigned an All Blacks fixture.

wayne barnes
Wayne Barnes penalises the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

Team NZ v Team USA, America's Cup, 2013

Sailing's 'Auld Mug' is another source of frustration for New Zealand, tracing back to our intense rivalry with smarmy American Dennis Connor, who bent the rules to trump our 'Big Boat' challenge with his super-swift catamaran in 1988.

But perhaps our most painful defeat came off San Francisco four years ago, when Dean Barker had us ahead 8-1 and moments away from a deciding ninth victory, when the wind ran out and the race was cancelled.

Team NZ never recovered and succumbed 9-8 to crowing Aussie Jimmy Spithill in a gut-wrenching outcome that we finally put to rest off Bermuda this year.

dean barker
Dean Barker in pensive mood at America's Cup 2013. Photo credit: Photosport

Tonga, we love your spirit - we'd love it to be a little less destructive at times - but now it's time to step back, accept the result and begin plotting how your rugby league team can build on its performance next time.

But most of all, try to show a little more poise than New Zealand has over the years under similar circumstances.

As the Springboks reportedly told their All Black counterparts after that historic 1995 World Cup final - cowboys don't cry, so suck it up. 

Grant Chapman is a senior online producer for Newshub.