By STEVE MASCORD
FIJIAN players are no longer star-struck by Australia and will come up with some trick shots for their World Cup semi-final at Wembley, the Bati’s coach and captain say.
It’s believed the rugby league team will be the first in any sport to represent the Pacific nation at arguably the world’s most famous sports arena after beating Samoa 22-4 in a final quarter final, at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.
For decorated former Australia captain Petero Civoniceva, it’s a rich reward for playing on a year after his NRL retirement. He told Fairfax Media some of his team-mates were star-struck when they played out a creditable 34-2 loss to the tournament favourites on November 2.
“I think so, they were (in awe) and you can’t fault the boys for that,” said Civoniceva, 37.
“For years, they’ve grown up watching these guys on the TV and then they’re out there tackling them.
“We’re going to give it our best shot, no doubt. We’re not going to lie down. When we played Australia a couple of weeks ago, we got a lot of confidence out of that, knowing that for great parts of that match, we were in the contest.
“They took a lot of confidence knowing they can get out there and compete with them. There’s where our focus will be – turning up the notch a bit.
“It’s a great feeling to know my last game will be at one of two great venues. I feel blessed.”
Fiji have been playing a pragmatic, physical style at the tournament but coach Rick Stone, the Newcastle assistant, said there was a demand to produce some unorthodoxy at Wembley.
“I’ll have to have a think about surprises but hopefully we can pull a few things out for the Aussies because you’ve got to take them out of your comfort zone,” said Stone, who identified Cameron Smith as the man who would be targeted.
“If you play the way they think you’re going to play, they’ll generally handle most things pretty well. We might come up with a couple.”
Penanai Manumalealii, the Samoan five-eighth whose mother was killed in a Christchurch car accident a week and a half ago, lasted only a few minutes before being forced off with injury on Sunday.
Matt Parish’s Samoans struggled in attack as a result and the Fijians dominated the first half territorially and on the scoreboard.
Winger Akuila Uate’s break from near halfway put halfback Aaron Groom over after just four minutes, with Wes Naiqama converting and adding a 9th minute penalty goal.
A kick by man of the match Groom handed centre Wes Naiqama his 32nd minute try – he perilously jousted with the dead ball line trying to improve the position for his own conversion – and at 14-0 the Bati were well in control.
Samoa, whose support in Warrington had been cemented by a comeback there against New Zealand on day two of the tournament, gave themselves some hope with Antonio Winterstein’s 57th minute try, which went unconverted.
But on the back of some expansive but brutal football, Naiqama added a second penalty goal and replacement Vitale Roqica plunged over between the posts to secure the result with three left.
Stone said he wasn’t sure if, as a result of the win, the Bati had qualified for next year’s Four Nations in the southern hemisphere. He said foward Jayson Bukuya had an infected knee and Tariq Sims an unspecified injury needing a pain-killing injection but both would be fit for the semi.
“We’ve had injuries right from the start – but I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” said Parish.
FIJI 22 (Aaron Groom, Wes Naiqama, Vitale Junior Roqica tries; Wes Naiqama 5 goals) beat SAMOA 4 (Antonio Winterstein try) at Halliwell Jones Stadium. Referee: Richard Silverwood (England). Crowd: 12,766.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD