‘Wow’: 19-year-old star stuns Meninga
DAVID Fifita showed a glimpse of the future in his first senior rugby league game for Australia, scoring two tries as the Kangaroos beat New Zealand 25-12 to ignite the World Cup nines in Sydney.
While Tonga and Fiji were shock losers on Friday's opening night of the tournament at Bankwest Stadium, Fifita ensured Australia wouldn't join the list of upset results.
The 19-year-old star ran in both of the Kangaroos' second-half tries with typical barnstorming runs, and he also put the Aussies on the front foot for a Kyle Feldt try.
In total, Fifita finished with nine tackle busts, two line breaks, a line-break assist and an offload to easily be the best player so far in the competition.
The Brisbane gun isn't part of Australia's squad for next week's Test against New Zealand, but coach Mal Meninga suggested he might be called up next month to play Tonga.
"David Fifita - wow," Meninga said. "What an outstanding game for us. He made a difference. He's playing Junior (Kangaroos next week). He's not in the first Test against the Kiwis but he may push for the second Test."
Josh Addo-Carr also scored a double for the Kangaroos, including the opener as he scorched the touchline for 70m after a Wade Graham bust.
Jamayne Isaako scored both of New Zealand's tries, the beneficiary of a Shaun Johnson cut-out ball for his first and producing a jinking run from the half for his second.
But the hero was Fifita, who had a taste of Nines action playing for an Australian under-23s side last year in a curtain-raiser for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
"I learnt to back myself in that," Fifita said. "I like this type of footy. It reminds me a bit of indigenous footy, with open space and all that."
New Zealand should still advance on Saturday if they beat both the USA and Papua New Guinea, after the Kumuls beat the Tomahawks 27-10 to finish the night.
Samoa is in the box seat to survive the "group of death" in Pool C after flogging Fiji 32-17 and watching Tonga fall by the wayside.
Winger Brian To'o scored a double for Samoa, while Fiji - who were considered dark horses for the title - looked all at sorts.
They failed to get the ball to the NRL's leading try-scorer Maika Sivo until the final minute of the match, when his 70m effort to cross was all too late.
It came after the star-studded Tonga were shocked 30-7 by the Cook Islands despite boasting significantly greater NRL experience.
With only one team to advance from the group, Tonga and Fiji must win both of their games on Saturday and have results go in their favour to reach the finals.
In Pool B, Lebanon was also a shock winner, putting aside the drama of boycotting NRL stars to beat France 12-8 in the first game of the night.
England had no such dramas against Wales in a Pool B match, with incoming Canberra halfback George Williams impressing in the 25-4 win.
DAY TWO SCHEDULE
11.55am - France 23 defeated Wales 6
12.20pm - Lebanon 16 England 6 at halftime
12.45pm - Samoa v Cook Islands
1.10pm - Tonga v Fiji
1.45pm - New Zealand v Papua New Guinea
2.10pm - Australia v USA
3pm - Lebanon v Wales
3.25pm - England v France
4pm - Fiji v Cook Islands
4.25pm - Tonga v Samoa
4.50pm - New Zealand v USA
5.15pm - Australia v Papua New Guinea
6.55pm - First semi final
7.20pm - Second semi final
9pm - Final
1. Papua New Guinea - 2 points
2. Australia - 2 points
3. New Zealand - 0 points
4. USA - 0 points
1. England - 2 points
2. France - 2 points
3. Lebanon - 2 points
4. Wales - 0 points
1. Cook Islands - 2 points
2. Samoa - 2 points
3. Fiji - 0 points
4. Tonga - 0 points
*Top two progress from Pool A
**Only top team progresses from Pools B and C