Mate Ma’a Tonga heads to Mt Smart: a photo essay

30,003 fans descended on Penrose yesterday for the Rugby League World Cup semifinal between Tonga and England. Despite a heartbreaking two point loss, Tongan fans provided the enduring image of the tournament. Joel Thomas photographed them on the way in. Captions by Jamie Wall.

Jacob leads his boys in a song down the street to the Stadium

The calm before the storm outside Penrose train station

‘We’re a small nation, but it shows the commitment’ – Ray from South Auckland

‘I bought tickets to go to every game, I’m supporting Tonga because they’ve been outstanding.’ Michael from Hamilton

‘Amazing tournament. It makes us think of our grandparents, our heritage and what they sacrificed for us to be here. We’re so proud of what the boys have achieved considering how written off they were.’ Edna and Nina

‘We’re here to support our boys’ Michael, Jay, Mika and Paul

‘We’re feeling slightly outnumbered, but at least we’ve got the right colour shirts on.’ John, Paul, Peter and Martin from Yorkshire

He was hardly the only kid waving a flag

Brothers Russell and Sione outside the Mt Smart entrance

Visa and his daughter Diana

‘This tournament has put us on the map. Seen it in the media everywhere, supporting Mate Ma’a Tonga’ Sione and Hapi

The queue to get into the South Stand

‘It’s been sweet so far, no problems at all’ – cop outside the South Stand entrance

Minnie, Lilly and Lucy from South Auckland

Santa outfits were pretty popular, given the time of the year and colour scheme

More improvised costumes

Tongan and English fans intermingled up and down the street

On the street outside the station – a game that broke agonisingly for Tonga, but a display of fandom the city will never forget


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