Rugby league-Samoa one step away from ultimate sporting fairytale

MANCHESTER, England, Nov 17 (Reuters) - When Samoa lost 60-6 to England in their Rugby League World Cup opener, few eyebrows were raised, but having disposed of the hosts to book a shock final clash with Australia, the Pacific Islanders are one step away from a true sporting miracle.

Samoa triumphed in one of the greatest games in World Cup history and are through to their first-ever final, in either rugby code, after downing England 27-26 in their semi-final thanks to Stephen Crichton's golden-point field goal.

But even getting to the last four looked a forlorn hope after their thrashing in Newcastle last month, with the powerful Samoans, well fancied coming into the tournament, appearing to be set to falter on the world stage again.

Three big wins from three put England through to the knockout stages and a repeat of the 2017 final against Australia, which they lost 6-0, looked on the cards as they headed to London to face Samoa.

But the Samoans, who did not win a single match at the 2017 World Cup, tore up the script.

No Pacific Island team had previously made the Rugby League World Cup final and no nation have made their debut in the final since 1998.

"Samoa making the Grand Final is a massive achievement, it's really reuniting Samoans, not just here in Samoa but all around the world," Tagaloa Faafouina Su'a, Samoa rugby league federation president and chairman, told Reuters.

"They all come together as Samoans. But it is not just Samoans but also our Pacific brothers Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, New Zealand and all of the Pacific representing. It's emotional for everyone.

"No matter what the result will be, we will walk out of that field with our head held up high that we did out best for Samoa. We don't have to prove anything else to the world or anyone."

Australia are the firmest of favourites to make it eight wins out of the last nine World Cups after their own thrilling victory over their Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in their semi-final in Leeds.

The Kangaroos have a 100% record against Samoa in rugby league tests, with the aggregate scoreline from their two World Cup clashes 112-10.

But having come from nowhere to overcome the odds and get this far, a Samoan side with nothing to lose cannot be completely written off in the showpiece match at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium on Saturday.

Reporting by Peter Hall; additional reporting by Ian Ransom, editing by Ed Osmond

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