Gareth Widdop was relieved England were able to hold off a late fightback from Tonga to reach the World Cup final for the first time in 22 years.
England’s full-back contributed a try and four goals to help lift his side into a 20-0 lead in Auckland with seven minutes remaining, only for their opponents to battle back in a dramatic, pulsating finish.
Three converted tries narrowed England’s lead to two points and Tonga might even have nicked it late on, only for Andrew Fifita to lose the ball in the tackle as he charged for the line.
After their 20-18 victory set up a final clash with Australia next weekend, Widdop told the BBC: “It’s a great feeling.
“It’s been one of the best games I’ve ever played in. (The final minute) felt like forever. Tonga are a passionate bunch of blokes and they fight till the end, they’ve been great in this competition.
“We scrambled really well tonight, made a lot of chases back there and they could have scored a lot more points. Our defence is a cornerstone of what we’re about and we need to bring that into next week’s game.”
England captain Sean O’Loughlin echoed Widdop’s sentiments.
O’Loughlin said: “It’s a massive accomplishment for us. That was an unreal game to be a part of.
“There are some big boys in the Tonga side and I thought we did well to handle them. They put us under pressure at the end. The turnout and support, even for us as well, has been fantastic.”