England, Australia, Tonga, Fiji in WCup semifinals
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — England has joined defending champion Australia, Tonga and Fiji in the semifinals of the Rugby League World Cup after weekend quarterfinals which showed the full flowering of Pacific Islands league on the world stage.
Australia continued its imperious progress to the final four with a 46-0 win over Samoa and England joined the co-host Sunday by beating Papua New Guinea 36-6.
But the giant-killing performances of Tonga and Fiji remained the biggest talking points of the tournament, marking an unpheaval in the international game as Pacific nations were finally able to tap their own immense talent pool. Pacific players had previously leant strength to New Zealand and Australia but their decisions to turn out for their nations of origin helped Tonga and Fiji alter league's balance of power.
Tonga beat New Zealand in pool play and Fiji repeated the feat when it edged the Kiwis 4-2 Saturday for the first wins by second tier nations over one of league's established powers at a World Cup.
That allowed Fiji, led by National Rugby League superstar Jarryd Hayne, to reach the semifinals at New Zealand's expense while Tonga nipped underdogs Lebanon 24-22 to advance, unbeaten in four matches at the tournament.
England ended the brave run of Papua New Guinea, which had been unbeaten after winning all three of its group matches in front of jubilant crowds in the national capital, Port Moresby.
Australia will now face Fiji and Tonga will meet England in the semifinals.
England was clinical Sunday in its defeat of Papua New Guinea, scoring seven tries to one. Winger Jermaine Gillvary scored two tries in the first half as England gained a 14-0 halftime lead and Kallum Watkins touched down twice during the middle of the second half to drive home the advantage.
Alex Walmsley in the first half and Ben Currie and Ryan Hall in the second also scored tries while Garry Lo scored in the 58th minute for Papua New Guinea.
Tonga's newly re-elected prime minister Akilisi Pohiva attended Saturday's match in Christchurch and called Tonga's qualification for the semifinals "the greatest moment in Tonga's sporting history."
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf agreed his team's effort in reaching the last four was "a massive achievement" but he was more downbeat about its performance against 12-1 outsiders Lebanon. Woolf was keenly aware Tonga's tournament might have ended if Lebanon had been awarded a second half try which was contentiously disallowed for obstruction, saying "it feels like a losing dressing shed."
"Our blokes all realize we were well off the mark," Woolf said.
Tonga's exuberant fans have been a highlight of the tournament but a handful for police, who have made dozens of arrests for public disorder during rowdy match celebrations.
Fiji players shed tears of joy after their cliff-hanging win over New Zealand in Wellington. Stifling defenses meant the only points of the first half came through a penalty to Fiji who led 2-0 at the break.
Unable to break the Fiji defense, New Zealand resorted to a penalty to tie the scores early in the second half before Fiji regained the lead with a Taane Milne penalty 17 minutes from fulltime. It then held out a late assault by New Zealand to clinch the win.
"I'm just real proud of the boys' efforts, fighting all the way to the last second," Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama said. "It's an historic win but, in saying that, the job's only half done and we've got Australia to focus on next week."