Samoa will join Australia, England and New Zealand in this year’s Four Nations tournament after beating Fiji 32-16 in an exciting qualifier on Saturday.
Samoa have booked themselves a place alongside rugby league’s heavyweights at this year’s Four Nations tournament with an entertaining 32-16 win over Pacific rivals Fiji on Saturday.
A surprise appearance from retired NRL veteran Petero Civoniceva was not enough to get Fiji into the end-of-season competition, a Krisnan Inu-inspired Samoa proving too strong in front of a boisterous 9,063 fans at Sportingbet Stadium.
It was just the second time in seven clashes Samoa have beaten the Bati, avenging last year’s World Cup devastating quarter-finals loss.
There was no shortage of bone-rattling hits in the battle between the Pacific Islands’ best, Fiji’s Korbin Sims kicking things off with a monster shoulder on Samoan Isaac Lui.
But it was Samoa who drew first blood, a superb left-foot step sending Penani Manumaleali’i over the line in the 12th minute for the first of an incredible hat-trick.
The Bati, however, responded moments later when Kevin Naiqama added to his dozen career tries in the NRL with a four-pointer off his own well-weighted grubber.
It was made all the sweeter by dual international Lote Tuqiri, who converted his first goal since booting one for Queensland in 2002, to level things at 6-6.
Civoniceva, playing his 51st career Test but just sixth for Fiji, didn’t shy away from the action either, with the 38-year-old drawing cheers with every carry.
The crowd was just as loud for fellow veteran James Storer, who hasn’t played first-grade in more than a decade but planted his first try for Fiji and their second of the night.
The 32-year-old followed it up with an exciting chip-and-chase, which eventually led to a Tuqiri four-pointer on 30 minutes for a 16-6 lead.
But it was Manumaleali’i's second try moments later that proved a turning point and gave Samoa a much-needed boost before the break, the gap narrowed to just four points thanks to a successful Inu conversion.
The 21-year-old, who made his NRL debut for Cronulla earlier this year, continued the run of points in the second stanza – his third try of the night turning the Samoans’ first-half deficit into a surprise lead.
Carlos Tuimavave extended the margin with a freakish four-pointer soon after, with Daniel Vidot eventually sealing the win on the back of some handy aerial work from Inu.
Inu, relegated to NSW Cup for Canterbury this season, played a hand in many of Samoa’s tries in a display sure to help his chances of a first-grade recall.
The game ended on a sour note, with Sam Tagatese sent off for a head butt on Fiji’s Kane Evans in the dying minutes.
Evans said he harboured no bad feelings towards Cronulla forward Tagatese, who ended up the worse of the two with a gash to his head.
“It’s healthy – especially in an international game, there’s a lot of emotion and it gets heated,” he said.
“I thought there’d be some leniency and he’d be sweet to play on – but he got sent off. Hopefully he doesn’t get anything for it.”
Despite the loss the Sydney Roosters rookie said it was an honour to play alongside league legend Civoniceva.
“Everyone wanted to lift for him, it was just unfortunate we lost,” Evans added.
“It was a tough game, the Samoans were real good.”
Samoan coach Matt Parish said it was a momentous achievement for his side to make the Four Nations, applauding the efforts of several players including Inu, Manumaleali’i and Reni Maitua.
“I think a lot of guys took their opportunities in what was obviously a pretty tough game,” Parish said.
“That’s what these games are about – giving players opportunities to stand up and be counted.
“Despite what people think, this was still a Test match.
“Players wanted to play. The disappointing thing is the clubs don’t support it.”