Wales' big guns, Iestyn Harris and Lee Briers, demonstrated their fitness and enthusiasm for next weekend's World Cup qualifier against Scotland by playing the pivotal roles in an impressive victory over Papua New Guinea in Bridgend yesterday. The Kumuls, rare visitors to these shores, began well, but were ultimately outmanoeuvred by the well-organised Welsh side.
"Two quality half-backs, arguably the best in Great Britain, are always handy to have," said the Wales coach, Martin Hall. "They also had plenty of willing runners."
Harris, playing his first rugby league international for Wales for seven years, also paid tribute to the men around him. "Lee and I tried to pick up the pace, and others followed," he said.
Papua New Guinea, who will be in a group with England, Australia and New Zealand in next year's World Cup in Australia, started brightly, with a try from George Moni.
Two quick tries, the first of them from the Halifax forward Phil Joseph and the second created by Harris for his Bradford team-mate Dave Halley got the Welsh moving. They wasted a couple of other chances through over-elaboration, before Damien Gibson went over after 33 minutes.
The axis of Harris and Briers was crucial for Wales, and it was Briers' long pass that put Gibson over for his second try, eight minutes after the break. Tu Maori had a try disallowed for a forward pass that could have brought the Kumuls back into it, but a penalty on the sixth tackle gave Robert Roberts the chance to stretch the Welsh lead.
Matt James was the next to breach their tiring visitors' defence. Maori was denied a length-of-the-field try by Joseph's splendid chase, but Papua New Guinea scored anyway, through Nixon Kolo, before Halley, Sean Penkywicz and Mark Lennon rounded off an impressive Welsh performance.
"It was an important game," said Hall, "but nothing like as important as next week." Wales came through with a clean bill of health and will stay in training camp for the rest of the week before flying up to Glasgow, where they need to win by eight points to reach the World Cup. Harris has the tournament earmarked as his potential swansong in the game. "I want to finish at the World Cup, not at the World Cup qualifiers," he said.
Wales: Lennon (Celtic); Blackwood (Celtic), Dyer (Celtic), Hughes (Oldham),
Halley (Bradford); Harris (Bradford), Briers (Warrington); Cushion (Celtic), Webster (Celtic), Dean (Celtic), James (Bradford), Roberts (Oldham), Joseph (Halifax). Substitutes used: Thomas (Celtic), Gibson (Halifax), Penkywicz (Halifax), James (Celtic), Summers (Celtic), Kopczak (Bradford), Smith (Rochdale).
Papua New Guinea: Wilshere; Maori, Kimelo, Franciscus, Mark; Joe, Peters; Hukula, Aiton, Expon, Moni, Omae, Griffin. Substitutes used: Pora, Nightingale, Kolo, Wabo, Prior, Yere.
Referee: T Alibert (France).Reuse content