Fiji earned the dubious privilege of another crack at Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup by beating Samoa 22-4 yesterday.
Beaten 34-2 at St Helens earlier in the tournament, and 52-0 in the semi-finals five years ago, the Fijians must shake off any vestiges of the feeling that another thrashing is inevitable.
“Fijian rugby league is evolving. It’s a work in progress,” said their coach, Rick Stone. “We have to take Australia out of their comfort zone.” Whether or not they can do that, yesterday’s match established that Fiji are very much the best of the rest in the world of rugby league. They never looked like losing to a Samoan side which, by virtue of being based in Warrington for the last few weeks, qualified as the local favourites.
Fiji took an early eight-point lead with a try from man of the match Aaron Groom, following an exciting break by Akuila Uate, and two goals from Wes Naiqama. Samoa looked disorganised, getting basics wrong, and they were punished again before half-time when Groom kicked through cleverly for Naiqama.
The second half offered more of what the 12,000 crowd had come to see, notably some thunderously big hits from Samoa and some fingertip handling and adventure from Fiji. The Samoans got their only breakthrough with a try by Antonio Winterstein, but Fiji finished in style with Apisai Koroisau’s improbable off-load and Vitale Roqica’s try.
At full-time, the players of both sides formed a circle for a prayer of thanks. That will be one of the enduring images of this World Cup, no matter what happens at Wembley next weekend.