Kiwis beat Samoa in thrilling World Cup tryfest
New Zealand won an extraordinary opening match in its Rugby League World Cup title defense when it held off Samoa 42-24 in what became a 13-try thriller in Warrington on Sunday.
The Kiwis had it seemingly wrapped up by halftime when they led by a runaway 22-4, then 36-4 after 48 minutes.
But Samoa rose to the occasion and the sellout crowd of 15,000 rose to applaud them as they scored four consecutive tries to close the gap to 12 with 15 minutes left.
Moments later, Kiwis second-rower Sonny Bill Williams, the cup’s headline act, slipped three tackles to skip over the tryline only to botch the try when his foot slipped over the dead-ball line before he touched down.
But moments after that, the Kiwis finally extinguished Samoa’s resurgent threat when winger Manu Vatuvei completed his hat trick.
Earlier, France escaped a 9-8 winner when Papua New Guinea fullback David Mead missed a 79th-minute penalty in front of the posts in Hull. The result left PNG under pressure to upset New Zealand or Samoa to be one of the three teams from Group B to make the quarterfinals.
The Kiwis made an impressive start with a four-try burst from the 10th to 22nd minutes. Simon Mannering, captain for the first time, scored two of them, and there were tries for fullback Josh Hoffman and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck from a spectacular corner dive.
Samoa, game but beaten for pace, finally scored on halftime through scrumhalf Ben Roberts, but his try and the interval were merely a hiccup in the Kiwis’ show.
Vatuvei scored his first try from a crosskick into the goal two minutes into the new half, and tries by hooker Isaac Luke and Vatuvei again quickly followed.
Then Samoa’s fate appeared to turn when Kiwis replacement Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, after taking an accidental knock to the head, openly slapped a Samoan at a scrum and conceded a penalty. Center Joseph Leilua scored and the Samoans celebrated as if they’d won.
Roused, too, by the crowd, and Mose Masoe’s charges from the kickoffs, three more tries followed to Penani Manumeasili, Suaia Matagi, and winger Antonio Winterstein, who scored untouched when skipper Mannering dropped the ball in a tackle in front of his tryline and Roberts scooped it up.
Williams then had his embarrassing finish to a great run, but Vatuvei calmed Kiwi nerves and Shaun Johnson kicked his fifth goal.
France, and not PNG, was treated as the visiting side at Craven Park because of Hull’s deep links to PNG players. So France scrumhalf William Barthau was booed when his 64th-minute drop goal from 35 meters broke an 8-8 tie.
Standoff Thomas Bosc converted his early try and kicked the second-half penalty to tie the score after PNG earned tries through Nene McDonald and Josiah Abavu.
Barthau almost cost his side at the end as he was named man of the match. He was offside catching a speculative high kick, then spilled it and limped off as Mead lined up the penalty from 23 meters into a strong wind. The goalkick sailed well left.
“David is devastated,” PNG coach Adrian Lam said. “He’s a great young man and we spoke with him about how he’s not to blame. He is a big part of our side. He’s not a week in, week out goalkicker and we don’t have one. That’s the problem.
“He’s blaming himself but there are a couple of other things we could have done better.”
On Monday, Fiji plays Ireland.