Fiji’s firepower ultimately proved too much for Italy in a spiteful Week 3 opener at the Rugby League World Cup, scoring the last 26 points of the match to run out convincing 38-10 winners.
But the fired-up Azzuri – needing an unlikely 46-point win in Canberra to bump Fiji for top spot in Group D – forced the Bati to work for their third straight win of the tournament, trailing by just two points midway through the second half.
Italy’s Josh Mantellato followed off a thrilling first try in the 20th minute with a brilliant winger’s finish, but Kevin Naiqama responded for Fiji eight minutes later and a try on the stroke of halftime to halfback Henry Raiwalui gave the favourites a 12-4 buffer.
The first half was punctuated by several explosive scuffles; Italy second-rower Jayden Walker was sin-binned after 12 minutes, while Italy hooker Joe Tramontana and Fiji superstar Jarryd Hayne were despatched late in the first half.
Footage from the tunnel showed Tramontana having to be restrained by team trainers as he exchanged verbals with Hayne.
— 7RLWC (@7RLWC) November 10, 2017
Italy started the second half in ideal fashion when centre Nathan Milone scored a freakish try just three minutes after the resumption, but Brayden Williame scored in the 54th minute to give Fiji some breathing space before Melbourne winger Suliasi Vunivalu produced a blistering hat-trick in the space of eight minutes to wrench the game away from the spirited underdogs.
Canterbury flyer Marcelo Montoya capped a superb performance that included three line-breaks and 198 metres with Fiji’s seventh try of the night five minutes from fulltime.
Vunivalu, who was in the thick of the earlier brawls, racked up a game-high 210 metres and stormed to the top of the RLWC try-scorers’ standings with eight from just three games.
Fiji now await the result of Saturday’s New Zealand-Tonga blockbuster to find out their quarter-final opponent; if the Kiwis win, the Bati will play Tonga in Christchurch but if Tonga pull off an upset Fiji will play the co-hosts in Wellington.
Fiji are hunting their third straight World Cup semi-final appearance – where they would likely face off against Australia for the third consecutive time.
Fiji 38 (Suliasi Vunivalu 3, Kevin Naiqama, Henry Raiwalui, Brayden Williame, Marcelo Montoya tries; Apisai Koroisau 3, Taane Milne 2 goals) d Italy 10 (Josh Mantellato, Nathan Milone tries; Mantellato goal) at Canberra Stadium.