Friday 24 November 2017 / 11:06 PM


Australia ended the Fijian fairytale in ruthless fashion in Friday’s RLWC semi-final at Suncorp Stadium, blasting the Bati away 54-6 with a near-faultless display that sounded an ominous warning ahead of the December 2 decider at the same ground.

Again a Valentine Holmes tryscoring blitzkrieg was the main talking point, backing up his all-time World Cup and Australian Test record haul of five tries against Samoa a week earlier with an astonishing new mark of six tries, four of those coming in the second half.

After an early Fiji penalty goal, a horrible one-on-one miss by Taane Milne on Michael Morgan in the 15th minute saw Billy Slater stroll over for his 26th try for Australia – and one of his simplest in the Test arena.

Three minutes later Suliasi Vunivalu, who recklessly ran out of the defensive line in the lead-up to the first try, misjudged a Cooper Cronk kick, which landed right in Holmes’ breadbasket for an imposing 12-2 lead.

Holmes nabbed his second in the 26th minute as the Kangaroos made a smothered Cameron Smith kick work for them, quickly shifting it to their left edge and finding Fiji a man short. Dane Gagai cut the Bati defence to ribbons on the other side of the field only a few sets later to make it 22-2.

Fiji survived the remaining seven minutes until halftime without further damage to the scoreboard, but the underdogs were unable to build any pressure of their own and headed to the sheds with a rugby league Everest awaiting them on the other side of the break.

A charge-down in the opening set of the second half looked promising for Fiji, but it quickly turned sour as Holmes intercepted a Kevin Naiqama pass and scooted 90 metres to complete a hat-trick. It started getting really ugly in the 49th minute as Slater sprinted 60 metres to score from a scrum win.

Holmes’ tryscoring feast continued with his fourth in the 52nd minute – taking him to a record-equalling 10 for the tournament – as Australia rumbled to a 40-2 advantage.

Fiji found some belated respite just before the hour mark, with Suliasi Vunivalu partly atoning for an unhappy night with a super pick-up to score his side’s first try on the back of a long Akuila Uate break.

The breakthrough came after Australia had kept their try-line intact for more than three hours of international football.

But Holmes was in the spotlight again soon enough, equalling his own week-old mark with his fifth try and breaking Wendell Sailor’s single-tournament World Cup record.

Gagai bagged his second before Holmes went about etching his name deeper into the record books, scorching away for his sixth touchdown and Australia’s 10th.

Australia 54 (Valentine Holmes 6, Dane Gagai 2, Billy Slater 2 tries; Cameron Smith 7 goals) d Fiji 6 (Suliasi Vunivalu try; Apisai Koroisau goal) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. 

Fiji find Kangaroos a cut above

Devastating throughout the pool stage before pulling off arguably the greatest international upset of all time last week, Fiji were comprehensively outclassed by Australia virtually from the outset.

The opposition the Bati encountered in Brisbane was several levels above what the Kiwis produced in the quarter-final, and they were unable to compete with the speed, precision and class the Kangaroos put out on the field.

The pace the Kangaroos played the game with the ball perpetually had Fiji on the back foot, and relentlessly exposed their rickety edge defence. Not that it should be the focus at this point, but Fiji’s struggles against a well-drilled, well-conditioned team further underlined the Kiwis’ subpar showing.

Fiji have been rightly hailed for their efforts to get to the semi-final stage for the third straight World Cup, but after encountering Australia on each occasion the cumulative scoreboard reads 172-6.

It’s a well-worn cliché, but it seemed as if Fiji had already played their grand final.

Cheap penalties cost Bati

Ill-discipline marred Fiji’s start, and it was their most experienced campaigners that let the side down with needless penalties. Jarryd Hayne (twice) and Ashton Sims were pinged inside the first 20 minutes to repeatedly piggyback the Kangaroos downfield – and they cashed in twice in quick succession.

The halftime penalty count read 5-2 in Australia’s favour, but Fiji’s poor ball control contributed just as heavily to the 20-point deficit. The rank outsiders completed just nine of 14 sets in the first 40 minutes, preventing them from building any pressure or even coming close to a much-needed try.

Hayne Plane off-course

In the news throughout the week for less-than-ideal reasons, the stage was set for an electrifying Jarryd Hayne performance. He looked keyed up early, attempting to ruffle Billy Slater’s feathers with a shoulder-charge at the one-minute mark and kicking with purpose in the opening stages.

But thereafter the Fijian five-eighth was more miss than hit, struggling to ignite the Bati attack and coming up with a succession of loose passes and misguided kicks. Hayne also missed a game-high eight tackles in a disappointing finish to a pretty handy tournament from the much-maligned enigma.

RCG takes his chance

Aaron Woods came off injured after just six minutes, but Reagan Campbell-Gillard relished his opportunity to get off the pine early and make his mark.

The ex-Fijian international played 48 straight minutes and finished with 171 metres, comfortably the most of any forward on the field.

A late call-up to the Kangaroos’ squad for Tonga defector Andrew Fifita, RCG has flourished in the green and gold and shapes as a frontline contender to debut for Brad Fittler’s Blues in 2018.

Getting a kick out of Kikau

Campbell-Gillard’s Penrith teammate Viliame Kikau may have a few Panthers forwards nervous ahead of 2018. The 22-year-old was easily Fiji’s best performer, playing the full 80 in the second-row and leading the Bati forwards with 145 metres from 12 runs, along with 21 tackles, to cap an outstanding tournament.

The Nausori-born powerhouse made nine rookie-season appearances for the Panthers this year but was unsighted after Round 16. Expect Kikau to improve on that tally next season as Anthony Griffin seeks out more physicality in his pack.

Holmes’ name to echo throughout history

Valentine Holmes’ performances in the past seven days have been a rugby league nerd’s wet dream, shattering a host of long-standing records in consecutive knockout World Cup matches.

Against Samoa he became the first Australian to score five tries in a Test and the first player to achieve that haul in a World Cup fixture; the quicksilver Shark extended both marks to six in Brisbane, equalling legendary Kiwis back-rower Hugh McGahan’s all-time Test record, scored against Papua New Guinea in 1983.

That’s 11 tries in the space of a week…quite incredible. His running tournament tally of 12 has wiped out Wendell Sailor’s 2000 mark of 10 and ensured Holmes’ name will be held in reverence by league history buffs for generations to come.

To put Holmes’ six-try haul in even greater perspective, no player has managed that many in a premiership game since Newtown’s Jack Troy back in 1950.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the 22-year-old tryscoring tear is the fact he has scored 11 of Australia’s total of 18 tries in their last two matches.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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