World Cup final: AUSTRALIA 34 NEW ZEALAND 2 at Old Trafford, Manchester

By STEVE MASCORD
AUSTRALIAN players repeatedly claimed before the World Cup final that revenge was not a motivation. “Probably told a little white lie,” captain Cameron Smith admitted after his men reclaimed in ruthless fashion the trophy lost to New Zealand five years ago.
Tim Sheens’ men brought their total minutes at the World Cup without conceding a try to 404 with a crushing 34-2 victory in front of a world Test record 74,468 crowd at Old Trafford. The gamble to include Billy Slater despite a knee injury payed off; he posted two tries.
“We probably told a little white lie along the way, where this didn’t mean much against what happened in 2008,” said hooker Smith.
“But I think, standing out on that field after the match, a little bit of that disappointment from 2008 was erased.”.
Coach Sheens admitted his career, and that of his medical staff, had been put on the line with the decision to play fullback Slater. “He had to be bashed (at training) and he was,’ Sheens said. “He had to get through Greg Inglis, who secretly wanted the fullback role.”
But after losing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to a leg injury following just six minutes of play, rival Stephen Kearney denied any such risk despite the winger having been in doubt with a similar injury during the build-up.
“We think there’s a hairline fracture there,” said Kearney, “(but) we did all the relevant tests and x-rays during the week and there was nothing wrong with him there. In his first carry, he heard a crack.”
Australia held a decisive 16-2 lead at halftime, after attacking the right side defence left vulnerable by Tuivasa-Sheck’s departure. But Australia centre Jarryd Hayne also went down with apparent concussion – before playing on in what should prompt a review of concussion enforcement in internationals.
The first points arrived when Kieran Foran was ruled to have taken out chaser Billy Slater in front of the New Zealand sticks, Johnathan Thurston landing the penalty goal. When Cameron Smith took Elijah Taylor high, the ledger was levelled.
While proceedings to this point led some commentators to compare this to a rugby union international, it soon began to more closely resemble an AFL match with attacking kicks holding sway.
At 20 minutes, Johnathan Thurston dropped a kick just inside the field of play, and to the right of the posts, where it was claimed by Melbourne’s Slater.
He spun midair as he avoided Foran, before ducking under Bryson Goodwin to score.
Rather than allow the modest in-goal areas to supress their kicking game, Australia just seem to become more accurate. Hemmed into a corner by the Kiwis defence, Jarryd Hayne centre-kicked for Cronk who wrestled with Issac Luke as he attempted to get the ball down.
Replays suggested Melbourne’s Cronk did touch the Steeden to the turf – but video referee Ashley Klein chalked off the four points.
There was no denying halfback Cronk four minutes later, however – and again the try was orchestrated by foot rather than hand. Brett Morris made the break, Darius Boyd kicked ahead and the no.7 won the race.
Thurston’s conversion made it 14-2 and a later penalty goal brought up the halftime ledger.
What the contest sorely needed immediately after the break was a New Zealand try. Instead, Slater set the the crowd on a course for the Mexican wave by backing up a break made by winger Boyd and engineered by man of the match Thurston to score his second.
Tries from kicks and interceptions are often derided as having not been honestly earned but there was no denying Australia’s dominance as they scored from one of each in the remaining 39 minutes.
The first of winger Morris’ brace started with a sublime flick pass from replacement Josh Papalii to the flanker, who kicked ahead. Hayne attempted to regather but hacked at the ball with his foot – with devastating effect.
Morris spectacularly won the race to the ball but then barreled into the fence, injuring a hip in the process. Rival Manu Vatuvei also collided with a hoarding in another incident that seemed to confirm the fears of players, expressed on match eve, about the slender in-goal areas and elevated pitch.
Centre Greg Inglis suffered a suspected broken bone in his hand, while Morris’ hip injury was said to not be serious. Sheens said it was the best performance in his time as Australia coach, and that he had not made a decision on his future.
Kearney said the youth in his side was a consolation. “Next time we find ourselves in that position, Australia’s performance is what it’s going to take to lift that trophy again,” he said.
AUSTRALIA 34 (Billy Slater 2, Brett Morris 2, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals) beat NEW ZEALAND 2 (Shaun Johnson goal) at Old Trafford. Referee: Richard Silverwood (England).
Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup first semi-final: NEW ZEALAND 20 ENGLAND 18 at Wembley Stadium


By STEVE MASCORD
HE scored arguably the greatest ever World Cup try in one of the competition’s most epic contests, he is just out of his teens – and he played on with a suspected broken leg.
Shaun Johnson broke 67,000 hearts by dashing over to the left of the posts with just 20 second left to keep New Zealand’s Cup defence alive at Wembley Stadium on Saturday but winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was the the true star of an exhilarating 20-18 win over England.
Legendary commentator Ray French called his first-half touchdown, which saw ball propelled from one touchline to the other, where it was flicked in-field from mid-air, out of bounds – as the best World Cup try since Clive Sullivan in 1972.
The excitable 20-year-old left Wembley Stadium in a surgical boot and team doctor Simon Mayhew said he may have broken a bone in his leg late in the match.
“I put my leg out straight and someone landed on it – I thought I heard a crack,” Sydney Roosters’ Tuivasa-Sheck said.
“I just had to find something to fight on and keep going. I just looked around at the boys and that’s what keeps you going.
“The Word Cup final, it’s something that comes only once a lifetime so hopefully I get right for it.”
The injury to the competition’s leading tryscorer wasn’t the only Kiwis buzzkill after a contest for which new superlatives will probably have to be concocted, England tendering a top draw performance only to be denied in soul-destroying circumstances.
Captain Simon Mannering told one interviewer it had been “our worst performance of the tournament” and hero Johnson reckoned: “at times it felt like we were just throwing the World Cup away”.
“I was well off the mark … that’s why it is mixed emotions,” said Warrior Johnson, who described the try as ‘by far’ the biggest moment of his career.
“Defensively I wasn’t there and that’s what I’ve built my game on this whole tournament. I’ve been pretty good defensively and I guess if wasn’t for that try at the end, it would be a bitter taste.
“It would be pretty hard to look at myself if we had to go home.”
After a dismal showing against France, England were not expected to seriously test a Kiwis outfit that had topped the try- and pointscoring charts in the pool and quarter-final stages.
But after an early disallowed try to Kiwi Issac Luke, powerful England rolled down the lusg Wembley turf and Sam Burgess’ one-handed pass gave Sean O’Loughlin his 16th minute try.
This was converted and later complemented by a Kevin Sinfield penalty goal, before the RTS Express put the finishing touches on a try for the ages.
Jason Nightingale, Sam Kasiano, Kieran Foran and Issac Luke all handled before Dean Whare scooped the Steeden back to Tuivasa-Sheck when the Penrith centre’s entire body was outside the field of play – and he was facing the other way.
Even the England players, standing in their own in-goal watching the video referee decide, must have been tempted to applaud.
Johnson added a penalty goal to bring up an 8-8 scoreline that Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney admitted was flattering.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s footwork delivered a 43rd minute touchdown to the Kiwis; during this period, the tourists received five consecutive penalties. But after the run was broken, half Sinfield put cenre Kallum Watkins over to tie the scores; the captain missed a relatively simple conversion attempt.
Then came Sam Burgess’s bullocking try from close range in the 68th minute, the touthdown that shoulder have secured England a place in the World Cup final.
The Kiwis looked to have been spooked later, Kevin Locke lobbing a ball over winger Nightingale’s head, but after a high tackle penalty and with Sinfield rushing up out of the line, Johnson stepped his way over to the left of the posts and serenely slotted home the winning points.
Kearney joked he was “under the desk” as the 11th hour drama played itself out. He said the areas in which New Zealand were deficient were “not had to fix” and was hopeful of Tuivasa-Sheck and Manu Vatuvei each being available for the Old Trafford showdown with Australia.
Rival Steve MacNamara had the good grace to tell a television audience of millions, within minutes of a crushing defeat, “that game put rugby league on the map.”
NEW ZEALAND 20 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Shaun Johnson tries; Johnson 4 goals) beat ENGLAND 18 (Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Burgess, Kallum Watkins tries; Kevin Sinfield 3 goals) at Wembley Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia). Crowd: 67,525.

World Cup fourth quarter-final: FIJI 22 SAMOA 4 at Halliwell Jones Stadium

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

World Cup third quarter-final: ENGLAND 34 FRANCE 6 at DW Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

ENGLAND showed more willingness to admit problems on the field than they previousy had off it after a deeply unconvincing quarter-final win over France.
While New Zealand and Australia crushed their first opponents in the knockout stages of the World Cup, the English were fortunate not to have conceded more than one try in their 34-6 win over a plucky France at DW Stadium.
England coach Steve McNamara has refused to discuss the banishment of Gareth Hock and Zak Hardaker and suspension of James Graham for disciplinary reasons earier in the tournament but was far more forthcoming in discussing his disappointment at the showing.
“Scratchy, very scratching – probably our worse performance out of all the games,” McNamara said, who said his men would have to improve “a lot” before Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand.
“Australia, Ireland and Fiji – I think there’s been some really positive things from that. Tonight, we didn’t go out with any fear of the opposition in us and that didn’t help us
“We put in a very substandard performance. We’ve shown how good we can be. If we needed a wake-up call, that was it tonight.
“(But) there’s no major drama, there’s no major concern from me.”
France scored first through centre Vincent Duport – who hurt his shoulder in the process, meaning he joined on the sidelines hooker Kane Bentley who had been injured in the opening seconds.
The French nonetheless managed to prize open the English defence on a number of occasions but lacked the finesse to finish.
England led 22-6 at halftime and managed only two second-session tries, although the performances of wingers Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall was a positive. They each scored try braces, with Hall at the top of the tournament list with eight.
Among other selection posers, Gareth Widdop has again hardly been sighted in red and white for England and McNamara insists each team he picks is his best.
But he added: “The best 17 can fluctuate and change according to the opposition … regardless of the performance tonight, that 17 may not have been the best 17 to play New Zealand the week after.”
France’s Engish coach Richard Agar, tried to be diplomatic when asked if he still believed England could beat New Zealand in Saturday’s semi-final.
“They’ll need to improve,” he said. “They’ll have that little bit of fear in their bellies too, which they probably didn’t have at stages tonight
“The other two teams, from what I’ve seen and what we’ve all seen, deserve to be down as favourites.”
One England player with a lot on his mind going into the clash with the Kiwis is young forward Liam Farrell, the cousin of former Golden Boot winner Andy Farrel who idolises Sonny Bill Williams.
“I don’t think you can look at the scorelines too much … if we contend with New Zealand’s forward pack and control them, we stand a good chance of winning,” Farrell told Fairfax Media.
“Everyone’s talking about (Williams). To me, he is the superstar of the game. I’ve watched him since being a kid. I’ve loved watching him play. It’s going to be a massive task for us.
“As a second rower myself, I like to assess myself against people like that.”
This England side’s unusual relationship with the media was still evident: captain Kevin Sinfield said: “This press room’s the busiest I’ve seen after any of our internationals this year.
“You’re all looking for a line but we just need to be better – and we will be.”
ENGLAND 34 (Ryan Hall 2, Josh Charnley 2, Sean O’Loughlin, Brett Ferres tries; Kevin Sinfield 5 goals) beat FRANCE 6 (Vincent Duport try; Thomas Bosc goal) at DW Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 22,276


Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup second quarter-final: AUSTRALIA 62 UNITED STATES 0 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham

By STEVE MASCORD
IF injury realistically presented a bigger hurdle at this World Cup than many of Australia’s opponents, then it is becoming an increasingly vengeful foe.
Two weeks after back rower Luke Lewis’ tournament ended in a collision with an advertising hoarding, fullback Billy Slater’s recent off-field misfortune following him onto the Racecourse Ground for the 62-0 quarter-final whipping of the United States.
Slater, who was detained without charge by Manchester Police after a dispute outside a nightclub last week, finds himself in the hands of another branch of the emergency services after suffering an injury relating to the absence of posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee a minute into the second half.
“It’s an old injury – he’s got no PCL so he can’t hurt it,” said the Australia coach, Tim Sheens.
“But damage may have been done to the cartilage and other things. He’s gone for scans.
“We haven’t given up hope that he may be possibly available – if not this week after that sort of knock, then the next week if we get get that far.”
It’s a measure of Australia’s depth, however, that the man who replaced Slater in the custodian role yesterday – Greg Inglis – was considered by opposition coach Terry Matterson a more dangerous prospect there than in the centres.
Slater may have been the offical player of the 2008 World Cup but the prospect of facing Inglis wearing the number one will not exacly fill Australia’s opponents with glee.
By almost any measure, Sheens’ side was ruthless in Wrexham. It ran in 12 tries, with centre Jarryd Hayne and winger Brett Morris each equalling the Australian record for a full international with four.
Hayne’s selection in the centres is something of a leap of faith for Sheens, and it paid off spectacularly. One of the three men he kept out – Michael Jennings, Josh Morris and Brent Tate – will now be called up as a replacement for Slater in a reshuffled backline.
If ever there was a team in less need of luck, it was Australia playing the United States in rugby league.
Nonetheless, the green and golds’ kick-off to start the mismatch rebounded off the wordwork and into the arms of loose forward Paul Gallen.
The Tomahawks initially held them out, but it was only two minutes before Hayne scored his side’s opening try.
There were positive moments for the American initially. By the time 19 minutes had elapsed, the score was only 10-0 and stand-off Joseph Paulo has been unfortunate not to have scored after charging down a clearing kick.
But Morris equalled his country’s try-scoring record in a full international by halftime. His hat-trick was registered in just 14 minutes.
The World Cup favourites showed no favouritism when it came to their route to the tryline. There were sweeping backline movements, pin-point kicks and soft walk-ins.
They didn’t try to find the easy way to points but nor did they display the previous week’s stubborn insistance on talking the hard road.
Parramatta’s Hayne could scarcely have done more to justify Sheens’ vote of confidence, with the extra work required of a centre preventing him from zoning out of a contest, as he can sometimes do.
Hayne started and ended the scoring spree; the score could have been uglier had Johnathan Thurston kicked more than seven from 12.
Sheens took particular pride in his men having kept their tryline intact.
“I think we’ve the best defensive record in the competitiom at the moment,” he said.
“We had our pants pulled down early by England and we were determined that won’t happen again so we’ve worked hard on that aspect.”
Matterson said he was relieved the game was over and proud of his previously unheralded charges despite the margin.
“We won’t dwell too much on what happened today,” he said. “It’s an experience. What we’ve done over the past four weeks has been special.
“It’s a group of people I wil always remember and we’ll always have a very strong bond.”
Tomahawks captain Joseph Paulo said the tournament had given him the confidence to speak more on the field and become a more dominant player with his club, Parramatta.

AUSTRALIA 62 (Jarryd Hayne 4, Brett Morris 4, Greg Inglis 2, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals) beat UNITED STATES 0 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand). Crowd: 9762

Filed for THE OBSERVER

World Cup first quarter-final: NEW ZEALAND 40 SCOTLAND 4 at Headingley


By STEVE MASCORD
SCOTLAND deliberately maximised the embarassment of rugby league officials by announcing as the most important game in their history kicked off that their funding had been completely withdrawn.
New Zealand cruised through the World Cup quarter-final at Headingley as expected, winning 40-4 to set up a semi-final appearance with England with centre Bryson Goodwin and winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck each posting try braces.
Their only real complication was an ugly, if accidental, incident which left superstar Sonny Bill Williams with a jarred neck.
But officials of the Rugby Football League, who until now had been basking in the glory of successful and profitably tournament, copped a PR barrage as the teams ran out when Scotland Rugby League posted on Facebook: “The RFL have withdrawn their funding from across the Celtic nations …
“There are no staff working on or on behalf of Scotland Rugby League until the Rugby League International Federation make a decision on any future funding for Scotland.”
Bravehearts coach Steve McCormack refused to be drawn on the issue after the quarter-final and SRL chairman Keith Hogg did not immediately return Fairfax Media‘s phone calls.
But it is understood the SRL had received inquiries about the issue throughout the week leading up to the match and had decided to maximise the impact of the news by announcing it when the eyes of the rugby league world were on its team.
The Rugby Football League, which overseas the game in Britain, is funded by Sport England – an anomaly when it comes to passing on that funding to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The RFL’s funding has been cut by Stg10 million over the next four years.
“I know they haven’t got a lot of money – I didn’t know they’ve now got none,” said former NSW five-eighth Peter Wallace, who has represented Scotland for the first time in this tournament.
“Hopefully how we’ve gone in this tournament … maybe the Scotland government can get behind rugby league in Scotland.”
For New Zealand, who led 26-0 at halftime, minor injuries and some lack of concentration were the only negatives coach Stephen Kearney could point to.
Williams packed into the next scrum following his mishap at prop before getting a very early shower, while winger Manu Vatuvei came off with a groin injury and captain Simon Mannering was also given a long rest.
Tuivasa-Sheck was a popular man of the match after tries in the 19th and 29th minutes. “He’s a young man of 20 years old yet some of the stuff he does makes it look like he’s been around for 10 years,” said Kearney.
“Yet it’s instinctive.”
The return of Kevin Locke as first-choice fullback was deemed a success and Kearney said the decision between the Warriors custodian and Josh Hoffman for the Wembley semi-final would be difficult.
“After halftime, we could have been a bit more ruthless,” said Kearney, who added “eighty per cent of the side is pretty much fixed or set”.
NEW ZEALAND 40 (Bryson Goodwin 2, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Jesse Bromwich, Frank Pritchard, Shaun Johnson, Manu Vatuvei tries; Johnson 4 goals) beat SCOTLAND 4 (Alex Hirst try) at Headingley. Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia). Crowd: 16,207.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

World Cup: SAMOA 22 FRANCE 6 at Stade Gilbert Brutus

By STEVE MASCORD
FRANCE coach Richard Agar accused NRL referee Henry Perenara of being “weak” and jokingly questioned whether he was a New Zealander or a Samoan following a rugged end to the group stages of the World Cup.
The Samoans had three players reported a total of four times and one of them – Mose Masoe – also sent to the sin bin during an 22-6 win in Perpignan which allowed them to avoid England in the quarter-finals.
Instead, the Samoans -they dedicated the win to squad member Penani Manumalealii whose mother May died in a car crash during the week – will play Fiji on Sunday. The remaining quarters pit New Zealand against Scotland, the United States against Australia and France against England.
“I thought it was weak at times,” said Englisman Agar. “How many guys did they have on report? I lost count at times.
“Is Henry a Kiwi or Samoan? I’m just trying to work that one out.
“There were penalties for absolutely nothng in the ruck and our halfbacks were just open targets for some very, very late challenges. One sin binning, I think they’d be happy with the result, it was probably worth their while.
“We had one halfback leave the field twice on the back of those challenges.”
France’s Roosters-bound prop Remi Casty added: “We’ve had red cards for lesser infractions. I don’t know if the rules are different in this tournament,.”
But Samoa coach Matt Parish reckoned “some of the Frenchmen could be in line for Academy Awards” for their reactions to the incidents.
“Their ball players went to the line; all our blokes made contact with their shoulder, their were no high shots. It was debatable whether they were late.”
|In front of the angriest crowd of the tournamernt so far, Leeson Ah Mau took out William Bathau late and high after 12 minutes and 60 seconds later Sauaso Sue claimed the halfback from behind.
An off-the-ball shoulder charge went unpunished before Sydney Rooster Masoe was give a spell for another, on Thomas Bosc.
Then centre Tim Lafai got a mention in referee Henry Perenara’s report for a speak tackle, and Wests Tigers’ Sue another one, for a possible trip. “There’s no way he stuck his foot out to tray and trip someone,” said Parish
On each occasion, the 11,576 crowd made it very clear it expected sterner action from the match officials.
But amid such uncouthness, it was pure rugby league poetry that assured the Samoans of victory.
Taking the ball 15 metres out with a standing start, fullback Anthony Milford dazzled the French defence with probably the individual try of the tournament five minutes after halftime.
He beat five defenders to dot down between the posts and converted himself to break a 6-6 deadlock; from there the Samoans weren’t headed.
France went close a number of times, however, with a two man overlap completely slaughtered on one occasion by Sebastian Raguin to the audible frustration of the fans, who follow Catalan in Super League.
Cronulla’s Manumalealii decided to stay in camp despite the loss of his mother in Christchurch. His father, who was also reportedly hurt in the accident, encouraged him to stay on.
France go into the quarters with the worst record of any surviving team
SAMOA 22 (Daniel Vidot, Anthony Milford, Antonio Winterstein, Pita Godinet tries; Milford 3 goals) bt FRANCE 6 (Morgan Escare try; Thomas Bosc goal) at Stade Gilbert Brutus. Crowd: 11,576. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand).

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD