Round Two RLWC Wrap Up: Pacific Sides Book Playoff Spots

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TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 05: Ashton Sims of Fiji takes on the welsh line during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between Fiji and Wales at 1300SMILES Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

More stunning results took the spotlight in the Round Two RLWC results. Some big scores, and even bigger hits that sees several teams putting their hands up. Among those, Pacific sides book playoff spots with better than expected results early in this Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).

With games from Friday to Sunday, played in Australia, New Zealand and in Papua New Guinea, the 2017 event has a real mix of venues, match-ups and outcomes. From the predictable to better than expected performances, with many highlights for fans of the 13-man code.

Round Two RLWC Wrap Up: Pacific Sides Book Playoff Spots

With 14 teams all set for action, the flood of matches saw huge numbers in attendance. Highly popular, with several double-header games that had fans glued to the results.

And it all kicked off on Friday, with the current World Champion Australians taking on the traveling French team.

Australia 52 France 6

Mal Meninga will be satisfied, as his charges go about their work with ease. He’ll be super-pleased with backrower Wade Graham. Four tries is a record haul, and the Sharks player will only grow in confidence the more time he gets wearing green and gold.

When french playmaker Olivier Arnaud left the field, his team mates could not recover, scoring just once in comparison to the ten tries that the Kangaroos managed. As well as Graham, Valentine Holmes, Cameron Munster and Billy Slater showing their class.

On the back of another win, Australia look ahead to Lebanon. They must also look refine their play. At times, predictable, the Kangaroos must be able to react when the knock-out stages come calling. Too relaxed, and they could be surprised–so ‘stay on your toes’ is the call.

Back across ‘the ditch’ to Christchurch, the sun came out as the Saturday afternoon fixture of the double-header saw the hosts dine out on the Celtic relations.

New Zealand 74 Scotland 6

The scoreline grew larger and larger in Christchurch, as the home town side put on a show. Coach David Kidwell celebrated his Canterbury roots with an emphatic victory. But what will please Kiwi fans the most, is that the combinations flowed.

Shaun Johnson was paired with North Queensland Cowboys rising star Te Maire Martin. It was a balanced halves combination, with Johnson sealing his name as the highest points taker for New Zealand rugby league. Martin; with three tries, put his hand up to be the first choice option.

The biggest impact was from Nelson Asofa-Solomona. His huge talent was clear, shunting Scottish players away with ease. His efforts could counter an expected explosive next-up clash against Tonga.

“I was really pleased with the effort and the win,” Kidwell told Fairfax Media. “Especially the second half, where wanted to make better a couple of things from the first half.

“I thought the boys really responded well.”

With 14 tries, the Kiwis needed to put out a big effort, and they demonstrated the potential of this tight unit. Their next challenge will show if they are a worthy chance of reaching the final.

Match of the Round: Tonga 32 Samoa 18

You knew that this game would be an outstanding example of ‘straight up the middle’ rugby league. Players would look eye-to-eye, with no quarter given. And the scoreline demonstrated that. None of the 50 plus point games here.

Of course most of the players knew their opposition well. Countless NRL stars, including Michael Jennings, they all stood a foot taller, with the massive support of their fellow Islanders. And that surge of pride is epitomized in the exchange of challenges prior to kick-off.

You know that the game has made an impact, when ESPN feature it in their SportsCenter footage.

Result wise, the Samoan team will have dearly wanted the Tongan scalp, but laden with stars, the Mate Ma’a were stronger in all areas. They controlled field position, with Ata Hingano showing glimpses of his promise. Jennings scored and the 14-6 lead at halftime was a fair reflection.

Samoa would find themselves further down, and began to play some ‘helter skelter’ footy. It was not structured, yet incredibly they crossed several times to bring the game closer. That was, until Manu Ma’u sealed the win to the cheers of joy from a crowd dressed in red and blue.

As much as the result helps Tonga, the example of the colour of the Pacific nations also showed the passion which holding games in New Zealand provided. The crowd were raucous, but respectful. On the whole, the crowd left with a smile, to a wonderful World Cup event they had all witnessed.

England 29 Lebanon 10

Like the style of game, the English quietly ‘got on with the job’ in Sydney. The matter of fact result was never in doubt, although several instances will stand out.

With 90 percent completion rate, the side were tradesman like. Tom Burgess was one, even showing some speed in running 30 meters for a rousing try. The English imposed themselves, hardly giving Lebanon any chance.

But the one incident that has overshadowed the victory was the claim by Robbie Farrah of biting by England player Jermaine McGillvary in a tackle. Placed on report, McGillvary will face the judiciary midweek. It comes as others called the England side ‘dull’ but they accomplished the goal–boring, yet productive.

They will be ready for the final stage of pool play, across in the isolation of Perth. Wayne Bennett must still ensure no complacency creeps in, as France could ‘show up’ and spoil his plans. So the Lions need to restore some thrust into their attack. A big win is what is needed, not another tepid result.

That cannot be said of the epic match up in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea 14 Ireland 6

Often, the most intense matches catch fans by surprise. All the talk of a walk over by the Kumuls came to nought. The Irish brissled and were combative from the start. It was a stunning turn around, and showed that the Northern spirit is strong in the Emerald Isles.

It was the Irish defence that held the Wolfhounds together. Halting Kumuls attack, causing turnovers and frustrating the hosts. The home side could not get the clean breaks, and Ireland almost caused the boil over, going over the line yet were unable to place the ball.

Hero of the day goes to Watson Boas. His grubber kick and regather saw him take his team to victory. The crowd rejoiced, but the team will also have found this result a wake-up call. Possibly over confidence got the better of them–now they must take the task more seriously.

Papua New Guinea escape with a blemish free record, and now face the US Tomahawks in a game that could result in more high scoring for the co-hosts.

Italy 46 United States 0

Down in Townsville, the Italian side revived their pride, after a big loss in the opening match. For Round two RLWC, the second double-header of the weekend had Italy dealing to a US team that could not compete in most areas of the game.

For the Azzuri, they wanted to clean up their image, after the Cairns nightclub brawl. It was bad for their team morale, so the best recovery from that was a win. A big win too, with eight unanswered tries. James Tedesco scored twice, rebuilding his confidence and demonstrating what a strong place Italian heritage has in the sport. Immigrants have always been a proud contributor to the sport in Australia, just like the contribution that the people had on the country.

With fans impressed by Italy, they would have become even more so by the venom shown by the Pacific-power of Fiji.

Fiji 72 Wales 6

In an incredible display, the Fiji Bati played with venom that dulled everything that Wales could muster. It was a destructive display, made possible by a mix of forward domination, and the fleet footed skills of Jarryd Hayne.

The supremo had one of his finest displays for Fiji, becoming the all-time try scorer in all World Cup history. The cross-code star has tried NFL and Sevens rugby, and Fiji Bati showed yesterday that at this RLWC, they are just as effective as the Olympic champion 7s side.

What would please fans just as much as the 70 point win, was that they secured wins back-to-back for the first time. It will all but secure them a place in the quarterfinals, and also give them a push towards even better results.

Backrowers’ Viliame Kikau and Salesi Faingaa showed they will be names to know in the future, as the mix of NRL players and tough locals are working as a team. Coach Mick Potter will be especially pleased, and even if little mistakes still occurred; and Wales managed a single try, they are a unit to be feared.

Fiji will top Pool D, and can rest players next week before the crunch games arrive.

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Average of 45 Points Per Game in Round Two RLWC

Consecutive wins for Pacific teams is both a revelation, plus a benefit of the policies of Rugby League. In the hopes of building tier-two nations, the nationality changes have certainly benefited Tonga.

Possibly in their strongest ever position, the island nation will be ecstatic from the results. But now, they face hosts New Zealand on Saturday. That is the first of the big ‘knock-out games’. Even if they are not winner takes all–results and points wise, the winner gains a prime place in the quarterfinals [the loser having to face opposition who are just as desperate].

And while desperation is not yet a factor, the fear of losing is a constant motivator. Fans and teams alike will want their teams to continue winning. And Round Three RLWC fixtures will no doubt create more excitement in the third week of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

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