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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: New Zealand 42 Samoa 24
SAMOA produced an outstanding comeback to rattle World Cup holders New Zealand in an enthralling clash at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Sparked to life by a flare-up in the second half, Samoa fought back from an apparently impossible position at 36-4 down to score four unanswered tries and leave the Kiwis on the ropes.
Even superstar Sonny Bill Williams was outshone by the effort and intensity of the Samoan fight in the second period, though ultimately New Zealand had the game in the bag once hat-trick hero Manu Vatuvei touched down the second of his three tries within 10 minutes of the restart.
Sam Moa’s shuddering carry in the opening moments set the tone for what was to be a physical battle throughout, and St Helens fans will be looking forward to seeing what their Samoan newcomer Mose Masoe can do next season after his brutally entertaining stint in both halves.
New Zealand cruised into a 22-0 lead in little over 20 minutes, as for all of Samoa’s aggression and intensity they could not resist the holders’ attacking quality.
The Kiwi’s right wing combination of NRL winger of the year Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and man-of-the-match Dean Whare were causing havoc, with Whare giving the Samoans an early taste of what was to come with a break in the seventh minute.
The first try was not far behind, with Sonny Bill Williams’ first impression on the game being a lovely flat pass to release Whare through a gap to bear down on the Samoan line. Brisbane Broncos full back Josh Hoffman was on hand to take his offload and finish, with Shaun Johnson adding the extras.
The next two tries also resulted from New Zealand’s dominance on the right flank, with Kiwi captain Simon Mannering in support of Tuivasa-Sheck’s break to drop over and double the holders’ lead. The winger then demonstrated why he was voted the NRL’s best winger with a stunning, diving finish in the corner from Whare’s assist. Johnson tagged on one goal to open a 16-0 lead after 17 minutes.
It was quickly becoming a whitewash and Samoa’s rare forays forward both resulted in kicks to the corner beating both Daniel Vidot and New Zealand defender Manu Vatuvei.
The Kiwis, on the other hand, were seemingly scoring at will. Mannering added a second and New Zealand’s fourth when running a nice line on to Johnson’s inside pass to open a 22-0 advantage.
The scoring dried up at that point, but the full-blooded runs and tackles continued unabated from both sides. Masoe helped inject some aggression into the Samoan line and he certainly got the crowd on side with storming runs and a huge hit on a held Hoffman.
It looked as though Samoa would troop in empty-handed, until Ben Roberts capitalised on a rare attack to score a bulldozing try that left Sonny Bill Williams and two others picking themselves off the floor.
New Zealand went for the jugular after the restart and looked to have killed the game off with a quick-fire treble from Manu Vatuvei, two and Isaac Luke to make it 36-4 after just 48 minutes.
But it was a fairly innocuous flare-up from a scrum on 50 minutes that turned the game on its head. It certainly seemed to spark the Samoan’s into life, as from that moment they threw themselves into New Zealand with a ferocity that won the hearts of the Halliwell Jones crowd.
Not only that, but they started to get on top of the Kiwis and dominate the match, with four unanswered tries rattling the World Cup holders and leaving the nearly 14,000-strong crowd screaming at every blue charge forward.
First Joseph Leilua crashed over in the right corner, before Penani Manumeasili pounced on his own grubber and capitalised on Hoffman’s error to add another just a minute later.
Pita Godinet’s pass then sent Suaia Matagi flying over unopposed following a Samoan penalty, before what was undoubtedly the most bizarre try in a match littered with talking points.
Antonio Winterstein’s try following a steal on Mannering was first disallowed by video referee Thierry Alibert, but much to the delight of Samoa and the crowd the decision was changed to make the score 36-24 once Anthony Milford had added the extras.
Any hopes of a miracle comeback were eventually crushed once Vatuvei had completed his hat-trick on 72 minutes, but that was only after Sonny Bill Williams had dropped a clanger by stepping out of touch with the in-goal at his mercy.
Ironic chants of ‘who are ya?’ rang out from the Halliwell Jones, but considering this was SBW’s first Kiwi appearance since his return earlier this year, there is likely much better to come from one of rugby league’s brightest stars.
New Zealand: Josh Hoffman ; Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Bryson Goodwin, Manu Vatuvei; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; Jared Waerea-Hargeaves, Issac Luke, Sam Moa, Frank Pritchard, Sonny Bill Williams, Simon Mannering. Subs: Elijah Taylor, Jesse Bromwich, Sam Kasiano, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala.
Samoa: Anthony Milford (Canberra); Antonio Winterstein (North Queensland), Junior Sa’a (Melbourne), Joseph Leilua (Newcastle), Daniel Vidot (St George); Reni Maitua (Paramatta), Ben Roberts(Paramatta); David Fa’alogo (Newcastle), Pita Godinet (Aukland), Suaia Matagi (NZ Warriors), Iosia Soliola (St Helens), Frank Winterstein (Widnes), Sauaso Sue (Wests). Subs: Penani Manumeasili (Cronulla), Leeson Ah Mau, Mark Taufua, Mose Masoe.
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