World Cup favourites Australia got their campaign up and running with a comfortable 42-8 win over Fiji at Headingley.
Arguably rugby league’s fastest man, Josh Addo-Carr, scored the pick of the tries with a blistering 90 metre burst in a first half where Fiji had taken an early lead.
Once the Kangaroos had opened up a two score lead after 25 minutes, it was one way traffic and the second half turned in to a procession.
No doubt buoyed by the spine-tingling performance of their pre-match hymn, Noqu Masu, they opened the scoring inside four minutes. Off the back of some early territory from a penalty, London Broncos stand off Sitiveni Moceidreke placed a short kick through and Semi Valemei won the race to touch it down before the dead ball line.
That was the highlight of a gutsy opening quarter of an hour where Fiji kept Australia scoreless. Maika Sivo came up with a big tackle, at the cost of a penalty, to deny Murray Taulagi in the corner and then moments later snared an interception as Daly Cherry-Evans probed close to the line.
An unsuccessful captain’s challenge following a Fiji knock-on kept them on the back foot but despite Latrell Mitchell going outside Kevin Naiqama twice still Australia couldn’t get through.
But eventually the errors took their toll. Api Koroisau, who had to choose between the two nations ahead of the tournament, was judged to have knocked on close to half way with an Australian tackler in the ruck, and from that field position the Kangaroos scored. Jeremiah Nanai ran a strong line at speed and went over, Valentine Holmes converting for 6-4.
Fiji’s defence stayed stout, they just couldn’t get out of their own end, perhaps best summed up when Naiqama surrendered the ball to Cameron Munster in a one-on-one tackle before Nanai tried to power his way over on 23 minutes but was held up inches short.
After seeing off that period of pressure, Fiji had a brief look at the other end and Brandon Wakeham’s kick was well fielded by the posts by James Tedesco.
Off the next tackle, an over-excited Fiji defence was exposed by a quick pass left and Addo-Carr set off on a weaving run all the way to the other end for a try.
That didn’t break Fiji and they came agonisingly close to their second try when Koroisau’s kick from close range just spilled from the grasp of Wakeham under pressure.
Another Koroisau mistake then led to a third try, Angus Crichton reaching over from close range and it was 18-4 at half time.
Fiji started the second half similar to the first without adding any points before more speed by Addo-Carr down the left helped put a try on for Mitchell on the inside.
That opened the floodgates for the reigning champions, who finished with seven tries.
Harry Grant went over from dummy half and then captain Tedesco danced through from 10 yards out. Addo-Carr got his second try when he got on the end of a kick through.
But the biggest cheer of the night came for Fiji, who rounded off the scoring with their second try – full-back Sunia Turuva showing good footwork to dribble on a loose ball and touch down in front of the western terrace.
The other two teams in this group, Scotland and Italy, face each other in Newcastle tomorrow.
FT Australia 42-8 Fiji
Australia: Tedesco, Taulagi, Holmes, Mitchell, Addo-Carr, Munster, Cherry-Evans, Fa’asuamaleaui, Hunt, Trbojevic, Crichton, Nanai, Murray. Subs: Grant, Cotter, Carrigan, Wighton.
Tries: Nanai, Addo-Carr 2, Crichton, Mitchell,
Fiji: Turuva, Vulikijapani, Naiqama, Valemei, Sivo, Moceidreke, Wakeham, Vuniyayawa, Koroisau, Kamikamica, Kikau, Wong, Manuel-Liolevave. Subs: Drodrolagi, Nakubuwai, Sadrugu, Tagituimua.