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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Mark Staniforth

Holders Australia overcome early scare to thrash Fiji in World Cup opener

PA Wire

Australia shrugged off an early shock to run in seven tries and sweep aside Fiji 42-8 in their opening game of the Rugby League World Cup at rain-lashed Headingley.

Chasing their third consecutive title, the Kangaroos found themselves four points behind with just four minutes on the clock after Fijian centre Semi Valemei flopped on a short kick behind the line.

Mal Meninga’s men had to fight for their 18-4 half-time advantage but wrested control after the interval with winger Josh Addo-Carr completing a try double and Valentine Holmes completing a perfect set of seven conversions.

It was ominous statement of intent from the defending champions, who started with seven debutants and without four squad members who featured in the NRL Grand Final earlier this month and had been given extra time to recuperate.

Fiji, semi-finalists in each of the last three competitions, suffered a blow in the build-up when coach Joe Rabele was taken ill, with his assistant Wise Kativerata taking over the duties in the dugout for the evening.

Valemei’s opener capped a pair of promising opening sets from the underdogs, and it took the Australians 10 minutes to level when Daly Cherry-Evans flicked out a neat pass to Jeremiah Nanai who whipped round full-back Sunia Turuva to score on his debut.

Holmes kicked his side in front before the Kangaroos extended their lead when the Fijians switched off following a failed grubber and Aldo-Carr burst the length of the field to score his first try of the night.

It seemed a little harsh on the Fijians who were proving more than a match for their opponents in terms of brute strength, but whose moments of sloppiness were ruthlessly exploited by their opponents.

More great pressure left Brandon Wakeham inches from reducing Fiji’s deficit, but three minutes later some relentless running through the centre by Latrell Mitchell served up Angus Crichton with the chance to stretch over for Australia’s third try.

After soaking up more pressure at the second of the second period, Addo-Carr burst away on the short-side and found the impressive Cameron Munster, whose one-handed pass gave Mitchell the chance to further extend his side’s lead.

Harry Grant steamed over in a move he kick-started himself with a 40-20, then captain James Tedesco also jinked his way through a tiring Fiji back-line before Holmes added the extras to make it 36-4.

Grant’s blend of power and accuracy sent Addo-Carr over the line for his second, but one of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for Turuva who chased his own kick to seal a richly deserved second try of the night for the Fijians.

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