Scrum-half Johnathan Thurston reaped a 24-point haul as Australia routed Fiji 52-0 yesterday to storm into rugby league’s World Cup final.
Thurston helped himself to three tries and six goals from 10 attempts as the Kangaroos set up a tournament decider against New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday.
While the Australians totted up 10 tries, the willing Fijians competed physically but not on the scoreboard, and the hosts go into next weekend’s final the hottest of favorites to capture their 10th World Cup crown.
The Fijians, thrown together and headed by a handful of Australian NRL professionals, were never expected to bring off an upset, but they went out of the World Cup with all guns blazing and left their mark on the Kangaroos.
It was the fourth time Australia have played the Fijians, but it was the Pacific islanders’ best result after being thrashed 66-0 (1995) and 66-8 (2000) in World Cup matches and 84-14 in a Test in 1996.
“It was a physical game and we’re going to have some bruises tomorrow,” said skipper Darren Lockyer, who was one of the Kangaroos’ best players. “Full credit to Fiji and how far they have come in this tournament, the scoreboard didn’t reflect the intensity of the tackles out there. Our defense is great at the moment and we are going to need to keep that standard next in the final against the Kiwis.”
Any suggestion of Australian complacency vanished with three tries in the opening nine minutes.
Loose forward Paul Gallen scored in the second minute after Fiji turned over the ball on the second tackle from the kickoff and it was a precursor for two more quick-fire tries.
Winger Brent Tate finished off slick work by halves Thurston and Lockyer, then full-back Billy Slater made it 16-0 after regathering a Thurston kick.
Australia scored three tries from their first five sets of tackles and Tate sprinted 65m for his second try in the 17th minute after being sent on his way by center Israel Folau.
But Tate’s match was over shortly afterwards when the New Zealand Warriors back collapsed in agony while in possession with a hip injury and was replaced by Karmichael Hunt.
The Fijians competed with the Kangaroos for a time before Slater scored his second try and his sixth of the tournament in the final minute for a 26-0 halftime lead.
Fiji lost their flying winger Akuila Uate with an ankle injury minutes after the resumption, further compounding their uphill night.
Slater, in the running for player of the tournament, scored his third try in the 48th minute off a Lockyer pass and the underdogs had their best scoring chance in the 54th minute when hooker Waisele Sukanaveita was held up over the try-line by three Australian defenders.
Fiji’s Jarryd Hayne floored Lockyer with a rattling one-on-one tackle as tempers frayed midway through the second half.
Thurston completed a 10-minute hat-trick of tries late in the match as the Kangaroos swamped the tiring Fijians.
Center Greg Inglis pushed the Australians over the half-century mark with their 10th try of the game with minutes left before the hooter.
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