Fiji won the 2019 Oceania Cup after defeating the PNG Kumuls 22-20 in a highly entertaining Test between the Pacific nations.
Fiji had the better of the initial stages, and could have been a try up within two minutes as Alex Johnston and Edene Gebbie both watched a bomb land between them; luckily the Fiji player knocked on trying to regather. Another try was defused when a cross-field kick to Vanivalu was met with a crunching tackle from Watson Boas.
PNG got into the match from there, but Fiji scored the first try in the 22nd minute when Tui Kamikamica crashed over under the posts on the back of a repeat set.
In what set a trend for the first half, PNG replied four minutes later when Rhyse Martin gathered a perfect grubber from Kyle Laybutt close to the line to make it 6-6.
Fiji scored next in the 32nd minute through Brayden Wiliame after Maika Sivo powered down the left touch line after a perfect 20 metre cut out pass from his fellow winger. But again the Kumuls didn’t wait long to reply; two minutes later Watson Boas crossed after Edene Gebie swooped on a Fiji mistake, ran 30 metres, then produced a magic backhand pass to the supporting half.
A very late penalty handed PNG a 14-12 halftime lead.
The second half saw a few more errors, but no less excitement as both team fought hard for the win. Fiji wasted no time taking back the lead – with Viliame Kikau crossing a few plays after the Kumuls gave away possession with an obstruction penalty 20 metres out from their own line.
Gebbie lit up the ground with a solo effort four minutes later as the Kumuls retook the lead: he ran from dummy half and avoided many a Fijian defender to score under the posts. The lead was short-lived though, as five minutes later Ben Nakubuwai – from 10 metres out – crashed over a little too easily under the posts. That left the score 22-20 to Fiji with plenty of time to go.
Despite their best efforts, the Kumuls didn’t score again, but not through a lack of trying. A marginal offside call cost Justin Olam a try after a perfect grubber landed in his arms, but more often than not it was the final pass or a knock on close to the line that saw no further scoring. The Kumuls could have won the game with a great passage of play with their final set, but the final Kyle Laybutt pass missed the supporting Luke Page, who would have scored.
FIJI’S BIG MEN LAY THE PLATFORM
Height difference and NRL quality were two of the big worries for the Kumuls against Fiji on Saturday. Some of the big men for Fiji were best on field.
Tui Kamikamica has followed a similar path to PNG’s Justin Olam, from the Sunshine Coast Falcons to a Melbourne Storm regular this season, and he was super for Fiji in attack and defence. His huge frame was always a handful for the Kumuls up the middle.
Penrith’s Viliame Kikau damaged PNG out wide. When he is in his prime, almost every run looks like a potential line break or dangerous offload, and Saturday was no different for Wild Bill, though the Kumuls were able to contain him for most of the game.
Ben Nakubuwai, the other second rower, was also a handful for PNG throughout, and was rewarded with a try.
PNG HALVES OUTSTANDING
Despite being on the losing side, PNG five-eighth Kyle Laybutt must have been close to best on ground.
He had a near perfect game kicking-wise, and seemed to be involved in most of PNG’s chances.
As for his partner Watson Boas, he has certainly stepped out from the shadows of his PNG Hunters premiership-winning brother Ase, with a performance that threatened in attack, and provided some surprisingly rigid defence for a smaller man. His hit in the second half on a charging Sivo typified his impact in defence.
WINGERS PUT ON A SHOW
There was a bit of hype about some of the wingers going into this match, and there was no disappointment at the end of 80 minutes, with Maika Sivo continuing his stellar 2019 season with a powerhouse performance, running for over 200 metres.
Suliasi Vanivalu also produced one of his better efforts for the season for Fiji. His work rate with hit ups was super, and threw a beautiful cut-out pass for his fellow winger which set up Fiji’s second try.
For PNG the big name was Edene Gebbie, who has a South Sydney contract for next season and beyond; Rabbitohs fans will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of the PNG flyer boosting their ranks in 2020. He was involved in two of the Kumuls’ three tries and was dangerous throughout.
FIJI’S PRE-MATCH RITUAL IS RUGBY LEAGUE’S BEST
As ever, the Fiji song to open the game was moving, and is certainly a great alternative to the fury of other pre-match rituals. It certainly doesn’t hurt their performance.
One does wonder if the Kumuls need something to rival their Pacific Island neighbours for the pre-game, although the Kumuls do tend to save their aggression for the first five minutes.
Alternatively, they could just get the fearsome Willie Minoga to stand and point at the opposition, which would be threatening enough.
FIJI BATI 22
Tries: Tui Kamikamica, Brayden Wiliame, Viliame Kikau, Ben Nakubuwai
Goals: Brandon Wakeham 3/4
PNG KUMULS 20
Tries: Rhyse Martin, Watson Boas, Edene Gebbie
Goals: Martin 4/4
FIJI BATI: 1. Siti Moceidreke 2. Maika Sivo 3. Taane Milne 4. Brayden Wiliame 5. Suliasi Vunivalu 6. Kevin Naiqama 7. Brandon Wakeham 8. Kane Evans 9. Joe Lovodua 10. Tui Kamikamica 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Ben Nakubuwai 13. D’Rhys Miller. Interchange: 14. Lamar Liolevav 15. Joseph Ratuvakacereival 16. King Vuniyayawa 17. Penioni Tagituimua.
PNG KUMULS: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Edene Gebbie 3. Dan Russell 4. Justin Olam 5. Terry Wapi 6. Kyle Laybutt 7. Watson Boas 8. Wellington Albert 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Luke Page 11. Nixon Putt 12. Rhyse Martin 13. Moses Meninga. Interchange: 14. Edwin Ipape 15. Stanton Albert 16. Enock Maki 17. Stargroth Amean.