It was always going to be a huge ask for Fiji in their World Cup Semi final against the Kangaroos last nigh, but when Fiji’s prop Ilisoni Vonomateiratu spilt the ball in the second tackle of the match it was pretty much all over for the hopefuls. With a heavy Fijian contingent in the 15,855 strong crowd, all they could do is pray – as the home side turned in a very slick performance.
Shown the way by an ever consistent Billy Slater, the Storm fullback remaining the standout player in the latter stages of 2008 along with a flashy game from Jonathan Thurston and a vintage performance from Brent Tate on the fringes.
When Fiji finally secured some possession 11 minutes after their early dropped ball – Paul Gallen, Brent Tate and Billy Slater had all dived over for touchdowns as Australia as a 16-0 scoreline showed the Aussies were not only beating Fiji, but the scorers clock as well.
Regardless of their poor stats, the Fiji team deserve credit for hanging on as long as they did after the horror early period. Such was the form the Australian side was in, the score could have easily been much higher. Fiji dug deep in the middle periods to keep pace, but the fitness and execution of the Aussie side again came through as the game wore on. The bookmakers were spot on the money, awarding the Fiji side a 50.5 point head start and they were 1.5 points off in a clinical selection from the money men.
Fiji remained spirited but it was another ruthless performance by an Australian team which so far in this tournament has crushed the Kiwis 30-6, England 52-4 and Papua New Guinea 46-6.
The only downside for the Kangaroos was a hip-flexor injury that forced Tate from the field in the 22nd minute after he simply collapsed to the ground mid-stride without a hand being laid on him.
Tate did not return and the initial diagnosis was that the Australian winger would be in doubt for the final.
Just minutes earlier, Tate had sprinted down the eastern touchline to finish off an 80-metre movement started by second-rower Glenn Stewart and involving skipper Darren Lockyer and centre Israel Folau.
Whether it was the loss of Tate or the rib-rattling hit Fiji five-eighth Alipate Noilea – the nephew of former Canberra star Noa Nadruku – put on his opposite after Lockyer passed to Folau, the Kangaroos didn’t score again until two minutes before half-time from a penalty against Sims for dropping his forearm into the head of Australian second-rower Anthony Laffranchi.
Slater scored again in the 49th minute but Sims had obviously given his Bati team-mates a lead on how to get under the Kangaroos’ skins and New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney would have enjoyed what he saw as the Australians were forced to endure a second-half battering.
Hayne, in particular, seemed determined to inflict as much damage as he could against the team he represented last year but was snubbed by in the World Cup, and a 58th-minute shoulder charge, in particular, ensured Lockyer will be sore and sorry today.
Folau, who grew up with Hayne and Kiwis back Krisnan Inu in Minto, took exception to another tackle by the Parramatta star, while interchange forward Semisi Tora came up with some brusing hits.
But in the end the Kangaroos had too much skill with the ball and determination in defence, and a hat-trick of Johnathan Thurston tries in nine minutes followed by a freakish Greg Inglis put-down just before full-time completed a 52-0 win for the world champions.
The Fijians finished the match as they started, huddled in the middle of the field with team management and coaching staff.
“This is just a stepping stone for us to success,” one of the two pastors with the Bati side was heard to say as the players began a prayer.
AUSTRALIA 52 (B Slater 3, J Thurston 3, B Tate 2, P Gallen, G Inglis tries; J Thurston 6 goals) bt FIJI 0 at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: A Klein. Crowd: 15,855.