Valentine Holmes has scored a record-breaking six tries to help Australia qualify for the Rugby League World Cup Final after demolishing Fiji 54-6.
The talented winger recorded five tries last week in Darwin and now has an incredible 11 tries across two matches as Australia head into next week’s ending with a full head of steam.
Fiji were simply outclassed throughout the match by their star-studded counterparts, the Bati unable to cope with the formations, skills and pace of the Kangaroos.
Jarryd Hayne and Billy Slater renewed old rivalries when Hayne put a shoulder charge on the Kangaroos’ fullback just 90 seconds into the contest.
Fiji took an early lead after Valentine Holmes lost possession whilst returning a kick, the Bati earning a penalty right in front of the posts soon after. They took the easy two points and went to an early lead after seven minutes.
Billy Slater was first to score in the 14th minute when Michael Morgan broke through a tackle, offering the fullback space on the left edge after Fiji winger Suliasi Vunivalu shot out of the defensive line. The misread by Vunivalu proved costly as Australia took a 6-2 advantage.
Just a few minutes later, Vunivalu was out-done again when he failed to catch a cross-field kick and Valentine Holmes took an easy take behind the winger to score.
Down 12-2 midway through the first half, Fiji were doing their best to hold Australia out but they eventually succumbed – a shift from the Roos’ leading to another Valentine Holmes’ try.
A decisive run and deadly step from Dane Gagai in the 33rd minute allowed Australia to continue to pile on the pressure, moving to a 22-2 convincing margin just before halftime.
Holmes nabbed his 3rd try shortly after the break, Australia going ahead another six points at 28-2.
Billy Slater scored an exciting breakaway try at the 47-minute mark, before Valentine Holmes grabbed a fourth just a few minutes later.
Suliasi Vunivalu put Fiji on the try-scorer’s list, crossing over in the 59th minute to make it 40-6.
Amazingly, and for the second-week in a row, Valentine Holmes scored his fifth try. The lead for Australia out to 40-points after the conversion.
Gagai secured his second try with another quick-footed step, notching the half-century for Australia.
It was Holmes who would put his signature on the match and his name in the record books forever, scoring his sixth try a few minutes before fulltime to cap a brilliant individual performance.
Max McKinney | @MaxMckinney
Rugby League World Cup 2017 Correspondent
England have staved off a fast-finishing Tongan outfit in controversial fashion at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday to book a spot in the Rugby League World Cup Final.
England looked to be easily home and hosed when leading 20-0 with less than 10 minutes on the clock, but Tonga would run in three tries in five minutes in a miraculous end to the game which could have swung the way of the Pacific nation.
Andrew Fifita broke through just metres from the line with just seconds to play before it appeared the ball was stripped one-on-one, but the whistle-blowers deemed otherwise without sending the call upstairs.
The first of the three last-gasp tries saw Broncos youngster Tevita Pengai Junior cross seven minutes out from full-time, before Sio Siua Taukeiho converted to reduce the deficit to 20-6.
A four-pointer to hooker Siliva Havili followed four minutes later after his side had barnstormed right back into English territory, and Tuimoala Lolohea then barraged his way over less than a minute later off the back of another unstoppable set of six off the kick-off.
But amid the raucous cheer of the Tongan-heavy crowd, the Mate Ma’a would fall agonisingly short.
It means England have secured a World Cup Final berth for the first time since 1995 and are set to meet Australia next Saturday.
England appeared rushed by the highly passionate Tongans in the opening exchanges of the game, both halfback Luke Gale and five-eighth Kevin Brown reeling off ugly kicks.
But the English would be first to impact on the scoreboard after a Gareth Widdop line-break had marched them into Tongan territory.
It would see winger Jermaine McGillvary cross in the 10th minute to ice a slick passage of right-edge passes and claim his seventh try of the tournament, before Widdop added the extras to make things 6-0.
An exhilarating passage of play saw Tonga then come tantalisingly close to crossing for their first points moments later, after a 70-metre up-field march streaked with a series of inventive offloads.
But Michael Jennings was deemed to have thrown a forward pass while sprawling towards the white line, and a deafening sea of the Mate Ma’a in the crowd made their thoughts clear.
The British then rubbed salt into fresh Tongan wounds off the back of a metre-crunching set of six, Widdop crashing over and converting 16 minutes in to extend his side’s lead to 12-0.
Wayne Bennett’s men enjoyed a wealth of possession on Tonga’s line late in the opening half, but a spirted defence would ensure scores remained 12-0 at the break.
Widdop banged over a penalty goal 49 minutes in, to hand England a 14-0 buffer and they continued in their push to meet Australia when they scored off the back of a forced goal-line drop-out later in the half.
It saw Wigan Warriors flyer John Bateman collect a Widdop short ball on the left edge in the 67th minute, before the Dragons playmaker again made no mistake from the tee to make things 20-0.
The mayhem of Tonga’s scintillating finish to the game made for incredible scenes, but England were able to scrape home in a thriller.
James Coman | @JamesComan1
Rugby League World Cup 2017 Reporter