When news happens, text LT and your photos and videos to 80360. Or contact us by email or phone.
Rugby League World Cup Diary: Kiwi crackers look the real deal
HARD to shake the feeling that I've just witnessed the next Rugby League World Cup champions - and they barely got out of third gear.
But even at medium revs, the Kiwi juggernaut was enough to steamroller the plucky Samoans at Warrington's Haliwell Jones stadium, to serve notice that they intend to have the silverware in their return luggage come November 30.
Blood-curdling screams resounded around the ground even before the first whistle, as the Polynesian's Sipa Tau just edged out the Kiwi Haka.
Cruelly the battle of the war chants was the only spoils the Samoans could lay claim to as the Kiwis ruthlessly battered their left flank from the outset.
Sonny Bill Williams, the league-union wunderkind who received a thunderous reception in Cheshire, gave a telling lay-off on the 10-minute mark for Dean Whare to dance through, slipping in Josh Hoffman when he ran out of momentum.
Only four minutes later it was 12-0 - the Kiwis just zipped the ball out with the sleight of hand usually reserved for Vegas card-sharps.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looked destined for a score in the corner but after he was halted it was child's play for Simon Mannering to dash over.
And it wasn't long before the winger turned from provider to scorer, finishing off a simple left-to-right switch with an angled dive in the corner, followed in short order by another basic set-up, Whare to Mannering.
Charitable it may have been but the home crowd - always one for the underdog - really came alive for Ben Roberts barnstorming run to give Samoa four precious points (and some pride).
Three quick tries in six minutes from Manu Vatuevi and Isaac Luke effectively killed off the contest.
Yet the Polynesians didn't falter and came up with three rapturously-received four-pointers soon afterwards.
Joseph Leilua finished off a sweeping move before the Samoans' marquee effort.
Everything looked to have stalled for the Polynesians when Penani Manumeasili dabbed a hopeful kick towards the Kiwi line. Brain-freeze can only account as the champions failed to deal with it and Manumeasili scooped it up and said thank-you very much.
Another try by Suaia Matagi galvanised the natives yet further before two moments of sheer sporting comedy.
Somehow Aaron Winterstein, amid a melee of Kiwis just 10 yards from the New Zealand line, popped up with the ball. Video ref Thierry Alibert initially signalled 'no try', only to seemingly change his perspective and give Samoa the benefit of the doubt.
Then Sonny Bill Williams, maybe the greatest talent world rugby has, proved we're all fallible at times.
Powering through the Samoan line, with a deserted in-goal, he slipped on his backside and into touch before grounding the ball. The inevitable 'who are you' chorus, and repeats of his fall from grace on the big screen, were a little harsh, though hilarious.
The Kiwis restored parity on 72 minutes when Vatuvei nipped through to seal his hat-trick. But coach Stephen Kearney, even with a 42-24 finish, will not welcome the points shipped after the break.
Standing ovations greeted the sides at the opening and final whistles (and the Kiwis at half-time if truth be told), and you can't say fairer than that.
Incidentally and just for a change, the sweetest part of the proceedings came courtesy of a pre-match intervention from Burnley (sort of).
Opera star Sean Ruane's company Chant Productions has been working with schoolchildren across rugby league's heartlands.
And the former St Theodore student's young charges provided a well-rehearsed chorus to lift the 14,965 sell-out crowd's spirits before the contest.
Elsewhere the French bounced back from a bewildering pre-tournament slip-up against the USA to edge out Papua New Guinea in Avignon.
Perhaps not one for the purists (or marketing men) but they survived a wayward last-minute penalty by The Kumuls' David Mead to start their Group B campaign off with a smile.
Today sees the Fijians take on the Irish at Rochdale's Spotland Stadium, with the Wolfhounds' James Mendeika relying upon the support of his dad, Blackburn Council manager Paul, and a horde of relatives from Galway, in what should be a tough encounter.
Comments are closed on this article.