New Zealand survived an almighty scare to set up a semi-final date with old rivals Australia after escaping with a 24-18 win against a gutsy Fiji Bati at MKM Stadium, Hull.
A late try in the final minute from winger Jordan Rapana - whose boot proved vital in the game - pushed the score out to give the false impression of a more comfortable win.
The Kiwis were were desperate to avoid a repeat of the shock loss suffered in the 2017 quarter finals which Fiji won 4-2 at Wellington, but an upset was well and truly on the cards at halftime, with Fiji going into the sheds with a 12-6 lead.
Highly rated fullback Sunia Turuva was in everything for the Bati, setting up tries and in the thick of any scuffles in a game played with plenty of passion, but after a slow start, his opposite number 1 Joseph Manu - who ran for 348 metres in the game - stepped up in a player of the match performance to help turn the tide for the Kiwis.
However, it was a penalty goal in the 71st minute from Rapana that gave the Kiwis the lead for the first time in the match and they managed to hold out the challenge from Fiji to progress in the tournament.
Match: New Zealand v Fiji
Quarter Finals -
Venue: MKM Stadium, Hull
- It was a physical match with Fiji setting the tone early. Korbin Sims in particular when he came on made it a mission to impose himself in defence.
- The Bati raced out to an early lead, stunning the number one-ranked side with back-to-back tries to open the game to Eels powerhouse Maika Sivo and Bati captain Kevin Naiqama, both of which were converted by Brandon Wakeham, saw Fiji out to a 12-0.
- In his last Rugby League World Cup campaign for the Bati, Naiqama was strong, crossing for a try in both halves.
- New Zealand halved the deficit on 25 minutes.
- Up 12-6 at the break, Fiji extended the advantage through a second for Naiqama, but four minutes later Briton Nikora battled over for the Kiwis after it looked like Fiji players were attempting to rip out the ball as he was moving towards the line, rather than wrapping up the play.
- Joey Manu continued a strong game by scoring 18 minutes from time, with Jordan Rapana, who is not normally noted for goal kicking, converting to tie scores at 18-18.
- In the match, Rapana slotted three from four, plus the important penalty goal, only missing out on converting his own late try.
- With 10 minutes to go in the game, New Zealand successfully challenged a call of Manu, and the ensuing penalty for a strip saw Rapana put his side in front.
Naiqama brilliant in defeat
- Rapana's try in the dying minutes put the result beyond doubt and booked the Kiwis a semi-final showdown with Australia.
- They may be a few injury concerns for New Zealand moving forward, including halfback Jahrome Hughes who was struggling with an arm injury during the back end of the game, but did not leave the field.
- The Rugby League World Cup got the close quarter final it deserved following two blowout scores to start the knock-out stages, with Australia too good for Lebanon and England putting in a near flawless first half to outclass PNG Kumuls in the earlier matches.
Play of the game
The moment New Zealand could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Up by two points with the clock ticking down, this determined effort from Jordan Rapana put the result beyond doubt as the Kiwis escaped by the skin of their teeth.
What they said
"I expected a game like that.... it was a good battle and it's going to be a good wake up in areas for us to look at moving forward. I always felt comfortable that I had the team that could [come back]. I thought our team really held together in the back end." - New Zealand coach Michael Maguire
“Those ones really hurt you know, we put ourselves in a really good position against great team like New Zealand just unfortunately we weren’t able to close it out. Obviously, we lost the game, and obviously the scoreboard sometimes doesn’t reflect the game, but at the end of the day if we were the better side we would have been able to finish that off. Maybe we played better for the majority of the game, but these guys were able to execute at the back end." - Fiji five-eighth Api Koroisau
"Definitely one that got away, disappointed and it hurts but like I said I am real proud of these boys and like I said New Zealand were real deserved winners and they really closed that game down and ... to many errors cost us in the end. All that said and done, hope we did the nation of Fiji proud, the boys were this jersey with pride." - Fiji Bati captain Kevin Naiqama
Emotional Naiqama brought to tears
"We always knew they were going to be a tough side, but it was really tough, they came out to play tonight and we sort of made things a bit hard for ourselves on our end, but you have to give Fiji credit there, really up for it and ended up being a good match. It was always going to be a 'body-on-the-line' type of match and it was awesome, was good probably from a fan point of view, it was nice to see a nice and tight match, but from a player point of view it was really tough and fatiguing." - New Zealand fullback Joey Manu
Manu wins Player of the Match
New Zealand will now go on to face Australia, who defeated Lebanon in the opening quarter-final, at Elland Road in Leeds on Saturday, November 12 at 4.45am AEDT.