David Mead has bid bon voyage to international football guiding his Papua New Guinea side to a historic victory over Fiji Bati by 24-14 in an entertaining and physical test match.
The pride of the small island nations was at stake and you could see the emotion of the players when they were singing the anthems. Fiji captured the crowd and the people at home with an emotional performance of their hymn 'Noqu Masu' before the match. Both sides were intent on showing their coaches why they should be part of the make-up of their World Cup squads when the competition comes knocking at the end of the season through the bone-crunching defence and fierce strong runs of the football.
Fiji Bati dominated the early possession and had several try-scoring chances. Bati thought they had the first try after nine minutes but Taane Milne was ruled to have lost the football trying to ground it. But, three minutes later the Bati crossed when Kevin Naiqama who was playing in the unaccustomed role of 5/8 pounced on his own grubber kick which was lost by PNG to cross for the first try of the evening.
The Kumuls had limited possession in the opening half, but an early shift saw them come back into the contest when Lachie Lam shifted it to Nixon Putt who showcased silky quick hands to find Justin Olam who raced downfield before linking back up with Lam and the Kumuls tied the match up. Both sides fought for control of the match through the final ten minutes, but a Fiji error gave the Kumuls much-needed field position. From there, it was a barnstorming run from forwarding Mckenzie Yei who ran over the top of three defenders to cross for the Kumuls which gave them a well-earned half-time advantage.
Both sides continued the bone-crunching defence and strong carries that were evident in the first 40 minutes straight after the break and it wasn't long before the Kumuls cracked when Sunia Turuva pounced on a well-weighted grubber kick from Taane Milne to cut the deficit to two points, Masima's missed conversion would be the difference between the Bati tying the match. The Kumuls would tire the Bati side out with strong carries up the middle and it wasn't long before Lam capitalised on the fatigued Bati defence when he split the defence open before linking up with Mead to cross in his farewell test for the Kumuls. Laybutt converted and the Kumuls had a two-possession lead.
Lam would cross for his second after a wonderfully timed kick from Olam found its way into the breadbasket of Lam and the Kumuls were home with a three-possession lead, a late second try to Turuva reduced the margin to 10, but the Kumuls have proven that they're a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming World Cup. Fiji need to find a halves combination, they had several sets tonight where they failed to get to a kick and following three straight semi-finals appearances, they're going to need a quick solution if they want to retain their spot.