Terry O’Connor looks back at the weekend’s Rugby League World Cup as Tonga stunned New Zealand and PNG continued to entertain.
ENGLAND 36-6 FRANCE
From start to finish, England were at a different level – their execution was first class.
Three tries in the opening eight minutes blew the French away; Aurelien Cologni’s side just couldn’t get their hands on the ball! In Kevin Brown, England had the game’s dominant half – and I thought Gareth Widdop’s selection at full-back really helped Luke Gale to flourish.
Meanwhile, Jermaine McGillvary has been England’s standout player so far this tournament.
Wayne Bennett’s track record makes him the best coach in the game – and the England coach is now in the enviable position of having selection decisions to make. On Sunday we had the best left centre in Super League, Mark Percival, playing on the right; I think John Bateman is a phenomenal player, and his versatility in switching to centre having played second-row all season shows just how good he is.
However, I’d like to see the Wigan man in his regular position; in Watkins and Percival, there’s more than enough strike at centre for England.
NEW ZEALAND 22-28 TONGA
What a game! We knew this would be special as soon as the Kiwis began their Haka; it was physical, passionate, brutal, and full of drama from start to finish – a tremendous advert for the World Cup.
Neither side knew how to play conservative football, and feeding off a frenzied crowd, served up an absolute treat. To be 16-2 down at half-time and score 28 points in the second stanza shows just how dangerous the Tongans are: without counting any chickens, they would be a real test for England should both teams reach the last four.
PNG 64-0 USA
Haven’t Papua New Guinea been the team of the tournament! In front of a third straight sell-out in the capital, the Kumuls reached the last eight for the first time since 2000.
My old Warriors mate Adrian Lam played in those Finals – and when his son Lachlan grabbed a double on debut yesterday, my mind went back to him and Matty Johns’ son, Jack, running around the DW Stadium in little Wigan tops! I like to think we taught them how to play…
The likes of David Mead were just too strong for a Tomahawks outfit made up mainly of players from the US competition; this was an altogether new level of intensity – and I know from experience all about the heat and humidity of Port Moresby.
AUSTRALIA 34-0 LEBANON
Anyone will tell you that you need to start well against Australia – and Lebanon put the kick-off out on the full, before conceding early to Cameron Munster. It was an electric atmosphere, with part-time players up against their heroes. Composure was key for the Kangaroos – but although they didn’t have the firepower of Mal Meninga’s men, Brad Fittler will be proud of the Lebanese effort. Heads didn’t drop until Boyd Cordner’s try in the 55th minute – and the Cedars leaked only 10 points in that entire first period.
WALES 6-34 IRELAND
So Wales’ wait for a first World Cup win since 2000 goes on – but Ireland will still be kicking themselves for not taking the option to kick at goal on two occasions in Port Moresby last week.
Michael McIlorum was sensational again; Cameron Smith is rightly viewed as a world great, but I believe Mickey Mac has been the dominant hooker in this competition – and the NRL are taking notice. In Oliver Roberts and Joe Philbin, Mark Aston had some real impact off the bench – and the likes of Brad Singleton and Kyle Amor were outstanding, with Scott Grix and Liam Finn supplying true direction for the Wolfhounds. Yes, they made mistakes – but a Wales side weakened by the absence of a host of household names just couldn’t capitalise.
SAMOA 14-14 SCOTLAND
They are not called the Bravehearts for nothing. Scotland made a great start, and were the best team for the first 40, against a Samoan 17 featuring 15 NRL players.
The Scots showed real character; Steve McCormack’s brave decision to send home three players for transgressions off the field absolutely galvanised the side. Lewis Tierney in defence was massive – and the likes of Danny Addy and Dale Ferguson really stood up.
FIJI 38-10 ITALY
I always look forward to watching Fiji – but Italy just haven’t performed in this tournament.
The Azzurri were outclassed from the moment the ball bounced wickedly for Josh Mantellato, with no transition from attack to defence.
Suliasi Vunivalu may have grabbed the headlines with an eight-minute hat-trick, but Jarryd Hayne was the standout for me – his influence grew through the contest, lifting confidence in those around him. The Bati continue to bring their nine-a-side flair to the 13-man game.