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Australia smashes Fiji in Rugby League World Cup semi-final

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Kangaroos winger Valentine Holmes created history by scoring six tries in his side’s 54-6 World Cup semi-final win over Fiji on Friday night.

Just a week after registering five tries against Samoa, the Cronulla flyer showed that was no fluke. His 11 tries in two games gives him 12 tries for the tournament, overtaking the previous record of most tries at a World Cup held by Broncos legend Wendell Sailor (10).

It was a stunning display by the 22-year-old who only made his representative debut last year, and played Origin for the first time in 2017. But he clearly enjoys the big stage.

He slammed down two four-pointers in the first half and celebrated his hat-trick two minutes into the second stanza when he reeled in an intercept 10m out from his own line before running the length of the field to score.

Billy Slater stole the limelight from him briefly when he sliced through from a scrum but Holmes didn’t take long to make sure all eyes were back on him as some crisp ball movement saw him stroll over from close range when Josh Dugan drew his defender and passed to his unmarked teammate.

The NSW star set Holmes up again when he hit him on the chest even after stumbling from 10m out to make it five tries for the young gun. Keen to go one better than last week, he didn’t disappoint, racing 50m down the sideline to put the finishing touches on a memorable night.

Despite his individual effort, Holmes was quick to praise his teammates after the match.

“A big credit to the team. It is an unbelievable team I’m playing in — probably the best team I’ve played in. Some great players in there,” Holmes said. “And obviously myself, six tries.

“I’m loving the tournament so far and very happy we have made the final now and I just want to relax and soak it up and get ready for next week.”

Rugby league icons were in awe of what the winger served up.

“We’ll never see this again, surely,” Canberra great Gary Belcher said in commentary for Channel Seven. “Gobsmacked.”

“It’s unbelievable,” former Penrith enforcer Mark Geyer added. “If you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe it.

“I don’t think I’ll ever see that again in my lifetime.

“Valentine Holmes has burst on the rugby league scene like an asteroid from out of space. He is great to watch.”

Coach Mal Meninga voiced his displeasure at his team’s training standards this week but he needn’t have worried as Australia dominated the first half.

The Bati opened the scoring with a penalty goal but that’s all they had to smile about as the home side showed its class to race to a 22-2 lead at the break.

The game started with plenty of fire, Jarryd Hayne’s illegal shoulder charge on Slater sparking a wild melee. The hit sat Slater on his backside but his teammates took exception to Hayne’s methods and another Fijian defender showing the No. 1 some extra attention on the ground, jumping in to defend the Storm star.

Back-rower Matt Gillett bombed a certain try with only the fullback to beat when his low pass to his outside floated forward and evaded Dane Gagai’s grasp, spilling over the sideline.

But the hosts’ attack clicked after 15 minutes when five-eighth Michael Morgan slid across to the left and shrugged off an attempted tackle. Fiji’s right-side defence had rushed up and once Morgan was through, it was easy to find the unmarked Slater on his outside for the opening try.

Holmes made it 12-2 when Fijian flyer Suliasi Vunivalu misjudged a bomb, leaping too early and watching in horror as the ball landed safely in Holmes’ arms on the tryline.

The Aussie winger went in again when he was the beneficiary of an overlap after the ball went through the hands to the left.

Gagai then stepped twice off his right foot to beat two defenders and score a four-pointer when he received an early ball from Cooper Cronk 20m out from Fiji’s line.

80th min — FULL-TIME: AUS 54 FIJI 6

76th min — TRY: Valentine Holmes is making international rugby league look like the easiest thing in the world, scoring his sixth try of the semi-final. He received the ball on the halfway line and raced down the left touchline to plant the ball in the in-goal once more. AUS 54 FIJI 6

70th min — TRY: Billy Slater scored a try from a scrum earlier, this time he set one set. In an eerily similar play to the one that resulted in a four-pointer seven minutes after half-time, the fullback passed instead of dummying to allow Dane Gagai to muscle his through the defence and score his second try of the night. AUS 50 FIJI 6

66th min — TRY: Valentine Holmes has remarkably scored five tries in a game for the second consecutive week. Josh Dugan almost blew it when he held onto the ball and stumbled, but he was able to fling the ball to Holmes on the left wing where he crossed for his fifth. “We’ll never see this again, surely,” Canberra great Gary Belcher said in commentary for Channel Seven. “Gobsmacked.” Colleague Mark Braybrook said it was “unbelievable”. Australian winger Wendell Sailor held the record for most tries in a World Cup with 10, but Holmes’ recent blitz sees him overtake that with 11 for the tournament. AUS 46 FIJI 6

60th min — TRY: Fiji’s Akuila Uate made a line break but couldn’t beat Billy Slater, dragged down 30m out from Australia’s line. That wasn’t the end of Fiji’s hopes though, Kevin Naiqama passing to Suliasi Vunivalu who did an extraordinary job of picking the ball off his bootlaces, his momentum carrying him over the stripe as he struggled to stay on his feet. AUS 40 FIJI 6

52nd min — Valentine Holmes now has four tries for the match, showing the five he scored against Samoa last week was no fluke. Some crisp ball movement out to the left saw the ball in Josh Dugan’s hands and he drew and passed from two metres out to hand Holmes another four-pointer on a platter. AUS 40 FIJI 2

47th min — TRY: Bill Slater dumped more pain on Fiji when he scored from a scrum. He received the ball on a second-man play and shaped to pass himself but he didn’t need any help, turning on the afterburners to slice through the Fijian defence and extend Australia’s advantage to 32. AUS 34 FIJI 2

42nd min — TRY: A week after scoring five tries against Samoa in Darwin Valentine Holmes registered a hat-trick against Fiji with an opportunistic intercept. Fiji was on the attack and threatened Australia’s line after retrieving an unintentional charge-down on the halfway line, but when fullback Kevin Naiqama passed to his outside backs, he watched in despair as Holmes plucked the ball out of the air before running the length of the field to score. AUS 28 FIJI 2

40th min — HALF-TIME: Australia botched a late attacking raid but still went into the sheds with a comfortable lead. AUS 22 FIJI 2

38th min — NO TRY: Australia almost benefited from a Hail Mary play after Cameron Smith grubbered on the halfway line. Cooper Cronk was first to the ball and got his boot to it again, putting Billy Slater in a race with Fiji’s halfback Henry Raiwalui to claim the Steeden. They both made a play for it but the video referee correctly ruled Slater knocked it forward into Michael Morgan’s hands, preventing the five-eighth’s try from standing.

37th min — KNOCK-ON: Fiji showed some spark as it ventured into enemy territory, but couldn’t regather a bomb on the right wing, handing the ball back to the hosts.

32nd min — TRY: Dane Gagai joined in on Australia’s pointscoring act when he found himself with time and space after receiving early, clean ball from Cooper Cronk. The winger stepped off his right foot 20m out from the line to beat Akuila Uate then put a similar move on the fullback to score a meat pie. AUS 22 FIJI 2

29th min — Fiji made a rare foray into Australia’s half but some adlib footy on the last tackle didn’t come off and the referee ordered a changeover 30m out from the Kangaroos’ line.

26th min — TRY: Valentine Holmes crossed for his second try of the night after the home side enjoyed a slice of luck. Cameron Smith’s grubber rebounded off a Fijian player back into the Aussies’ possession, and when they shifted the ball through the hands to the left edge it was a simple matter of taking advantage of an overlap to gift the Kangaroos winger another try. AUS 16 FIJI 2

25th min — Josh Dugan screamed out in agony as he tried to crash over for a try metres out from the line, but he recovered well enough to play the ball and stay on the park.

20th min — Play came to a stop when Jacob Saifiti went down with what looked to be a knee injury, which forced him off the field.

16th min — TRY: The Kangaroos went in again when Fijian winger Suliasi Vunivalu leapt up to catch a cross-field kick on his tryline, only to watch it sail agonisingly over him and into the waiting arms of Valentine Holmes, who crossed for an easy four-pointer. AUS 12 FIJI 2

14th min — TRY: Australia drew first blood when Fiji’s right-side defence made a mess of stopping the men in green and gold. Pivot Michael Morgan angled towards the left as Fiji’s outside men rushed up. He shrugged off one tackle to break the line, leaving three unmarked teammates on his outside. He passed to Billy Slater for an easy touchdown and Cameron Smith converted. AUS 6 FIJI 2

13th min — Cooper Cronk forced a line dropout with a perfectly weighted kick into the corner early in the tackle count. Dane Gagai chased and tackled his opposite winger in the in-goal.

9th min — BOMBED TRY: Matt Gillett had a shocker when he bombed a certain try. He broke through the defensive line about 25m out from Fiji’s line and had two men on his outside with only the fullback in front of him. He passed to his right but it missed the mark by plenty, going down and forward to evade Dane Gagai and spill over the sideline.

7th min — PENALTY GOAL: Fiji opened the scoring by slotting a penalty goal. FIJI 2 AUS 0

5th min — KNOCK-ON: Aussie winger Valentine Holmes took a hit up close to his own line but lost the ball in contact with lock Tui Kamikamica.

2nd min — HAYNE SHOT IGNITES BIFF: A brawl erupted after Jarryd Hayne shoulder-charged Billy Slater. A teammate came in and gave Slater’s head some extra attention when he was on the ground, causing the Aussies to run in and defend their fullback.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga admits Jarryd Hayne will have a point to prove when he spearheads the Bati in Friday’s Rugby League World Cup semi-final against Australia.

Four years after helping the Kangaroos crush Fiji at the same stage of the tournament, Hayne will now be Australia’s biggest threat following his omission from the green-and-gold this year.

Asked if Hayne had a point to prove against the Kangaroos, Meninga said: “He probably has from his point of view I guess.

“From our point of view, we’re happy with the squad and I’m really happy with the way all the individuals have been playing and bought into what we’re doing.”

Meninga’s comments on Thursday come three weeks after he criticised the code-hopper for his likely move from the Gold Coast after the tournament. It is widely tipped Hayne will reunite with Parramatta over the summer following reports he’s moved out of his home on the glitter strip.

Meninga identified Hayne, who has four try assists and two tries in the tournament, as the man to shut down at Suncorp Stadium.

“He’s their control man. Fiji’s getting through their sets and he’s putting a good kick in or controlling the ends of sets really well,” he said. “He can play anywhere Jarryd if he puts his mind to it. He can play one, he can play centre, wing — which he does at rep level — and six for Fiji. He’s that type of player.

“He’s a great individual, a great talent and he can play a number of positions. All those positions would suit him.”

Fiji coach Mick Potter said he couldn’t speak highly enough of Hayne’s contributions for the Bati, where he has led the team to a perfect four wins from four.

“I hadn’t watched him closely away but his contribution at six when he’s playing with us, he’s helping steer the team around the park,” Potter said. “He’s come up with really good kick plays, he’s come up with really good plays for his outside men. He knows the game. He’s been excellent. “I can’t speak highly enough of him as far as how he’s been helping us.”


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