New Zealand crush Papua New Guinea to seal top spot in their pool.
Code-swapping star Sonny Bill Williams scored a hat-trick as defending champions New Zealand steamrolled Papua New Guinea 56-10 on Friday in their final Rugby League World Cup Pool B match.
In an ominous broadside ahead of next weekend’s quarter-finals, the Kiwis scored 10 tries in total, half-back Shaun Johnson following up on his 24 points in the previous 48-0 victory over France with 16 more from the boot.
New Zealand completely dominated PNG, their speed off the ruck led by mazy running from Issac Luke and Johnson offering up wave after wave of attacking lines that led to easy yards up the middle of the paddock.
Man-of-the-match Williams, who as a centre won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks on home soil in 2011 and is bidding to become the first player to win Cups in both codes, scored three tries in a total of seven in the first-half.
He missed last weekend’s demolition of France, which followed the Kiwis’ opening 42-24 victory over Samoa.
The two opening wins had already assured New Zealand of a place in the quarter-finals, and coach Stephen Kearney was left to shuffle his squad against Papua New Guinea.
“There’s a lot of improvements for us to work on. We’ve just got to keep on working and step it up another level,” said Williams in his ninth league Test appearance, with 19 All Blacks games also to his credit.
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney added: “I thought there were some glimpses tonight of some pretty good form.
“Papua New Guinea came out after half-time and really put it to us, put in a great effort and made life difficult for us.
“We’ll have a good look at the tape and assess everyone and see how everyone pulls up.”
The Kiwis opened at pace, centre Bryson Goodwin grounding a grubber after just three minutes. Johnson converted, his first of eight over the evening.
Winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck displayed amazing strength to gather a Kieran Foran cross-kick and wangle his way over in the corner to double the score.
And Tuivasa-Sheck was on hand to finish off a slick handling move just minutes later.
With PNG under constant pressure, Williams was the next to cross, taking an inside ball to bounce off a defender and crash over.
The cross-code star went over for his second in the 27th minute, shooting through three defenders and affording himself a big smile after almost repeating his gaffe against Samoa when he slipped over the dead-ball line when touching down.
In an amazing display of attacking rugby, Williams was on hand with a selfless offload to Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Johnson surprisingly striking the upright from in front of the posts with the score 34-0 after half an hour.
Williams notched up his third on the half-time hooter, with PNG completely at sea with the Kiwis’ all-round speed too much for them.
The 18,000-plus capacity crowd at Leeds’ Headingley Carnegie Stadium erupted as PNG opted to run on the fifth tackle first up in the second period.
The ball spun quickly left, was thrown back inside and gathered off his knee by half-back Dion Aiye, who crossed under the posts, Francis Paniu converting.
Normalcy was resumed when centre Dean Whare crossed for a quick brace, just after playmaker Thomas Leuluai’s first World Cup run out after injury was ended just minutes after his entry.
Elijah Taylor, deputising at loose-forward for rested skipper Simon Mannering, then went in at the corner.
Wellington Albert scored a late consolation try for PNG, energy levels renewed in the second-half, a final farewell for a team that had already lost 9-8 to France and 38-4 to Samoa.
“There was a couple of great tries — it would have been nice to have a couple more,” said Kumuls coach Adrian Lam.
“They’re the world champions and were red hot in the first half, I was just really proud of the team for hanging in there.”