Back-rower Simon Mannering scored two tries as New Zealand trounced Papua New Guinea 48-6 yesterday to all but book a place in the rugby league World Cup semi-finals.
Mannering scored twice in eight minutes to set up the convincing win, which effectively decided which teams progress from Pool A.
Australia, England and New Zealand will go into the semi-finals unless Papua New Guinea can cause an extraordinary one-sided upset of Australia in their final match.
Earlier, Akuila Uate scored three tries and Jarryd Hayne added two as Fiji beat France 42-6.
New Zealand ran in nine tries to one against Papua New Guinea, but played the entire second half without star playmaker Benji Marshall, who sat on the bench with what team management described as a “tight hamstring.”
Marshall played a big role in the first 40 minutes and was involved in three of their four first-half tries, as the Kiwis took a grip on the match played in the Gold Coast in Queensland.
New Zealand made a shaky start to the second half without Marshall and Papua New Guinea came back with a try to teenage winger David Moore. But quick tries to hooker Issac Luke and David Fa’alogo ensured the Kumuls’ comeback was short lived.
New Zealand had won their previous 10 matches in a row against Papua New Guinea since the Pacific islanders lone win, 24-22 in Port Moresby in 1986.
The earlier result put Fiji on top of Pool B and meant they need only to win their second match against modest Scotland in order to advance to a playoff against the Pool C winners.
France, who won their opening match against Scotland, have to hope the Scots produce a major upset.
The match at Wollongong, south of Sydney, was dominated by Fiji from the outset. Captain Wes Naiqama converted all seven tries for the winners.
One of Newcastle Knights winger Uate’s tries was a 90m individual effort. Full-back Hayne was strong at the back for Fiji, proving a handful for the French defense and scored the first Fiji try in the sixth minute.
“Everyone knows what Aku is capable of and he has been waiting for this chance, for this opportunity to showcase what he has got,” Naiqama said.
France lost hooker James Wynne early with a dislocated elbow, but coach John Monie made no excuses for his well-beaten side.
“I was disappointed,” Monie said. “We should have played better football than that — they had too much enthusiasm.”
Today, unbeaten Australia and England meet in Sydney.
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