Ireland will face Russia in Bray next Saturday to decide who qualifies automatically for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup after a nine-try, 46-6 win in Valencia against Spain.
Scrum half and skipper Liam Finn bossed the midfield with domestic-based players James Kelly and Gareth Gill also impressing.
“We came here and got the job done,” said Ireland coach Mark Aston. “We scored in the first set and then the second and, when that happens, everyone wants to be a ball player rather than a ball runner, so there are some lessons to be learned.
“We need to put out a statement at home next week that we’re a good team, there’s a lot of potential in this group and that excites me.”
The visitors made a terrific start, hooker Joe Keyes, Finn and Shannon McDonnell combining to send Oliver Roberts to the posts in the second minute, Finn with the first of five conversions.
Luke Ambler broke the cover and Keyes, Finn and Stuart Littler then spun the ball wide for winger Casey Dunne to go over.
Spain responded gamely and held out until the half hour when they covered James Hasson’s break but then knocked on with their next possession, Scott Grix’s inside pass putting Littler over between the posts.
Ireland led 22-0 at half time when, following a penalty, Dave Allen went on the charge, Roberts and Finn combining to send prop Hasson cantering to the corner.
Ireland had a try disallowed at the start of the second half when Roberts’ pass to Grix was ruled forward but Kelly, McDonnell and Littler got Dunne in for his second in the aftermath.
More expansive play by Finn, Kelly, King, McDonnell and Hasson gave Haydn Peacock the space to go over in the corner for two unconverted tries in four minutes, but gutsy novices Spain replied when Kevin Aparicio went close and scrum-half Miguel Blanco-Charters chased his own grubber to touch down just after the hour, Daniel Garcia goaling.
Cedric Bringuier was sin binned for alleged punching and Ireland ran in three late tries to emphasise the margin.
Finn sent Warrington’s King over for his debut score, Littler went in from acting half back following a penalty as the short-handed home defence tired, and Finn’s kick was spilled for Grix to mop up.
As they had the week before in Russia, the Spaniards dug deep throughout and never gave in, Joel Laynez on his debut and Leandre Torres impressive, much to the delight of their vocal fans in what was a great advert for the sport in its infancy there.
Spain coach Darren Fisher commented; “It’s been a tough two weeks for the boys but massive credit to them against full-timers, I’m absolutely delighted for them, this is the level we need to be at.”
“We put some standards in that we wanted to achieve and we’ve met some of them so I’m chuffed, I couldn’t fault us guys for their efforts.”
Daniel Garcia, Clement Laguerre, Antonio Puerta, Alex Doutres, Chris Lopez, Ivan Ordaz, Miguel Blanco-Charters, Luis Thorp, Nicolas Munoz, Joel Laynez, Leandre Torres, Cedric Bringuier, Kevin Aparicio
Subs (all used): Andrew Pilkington, Aitor Davila, Matt Dulley, Adria Alonso
Try: Blanco-Charters (62)
Sin bin: Bringuier (65 – punching)
Shannon McDonnell, Casey Dunne, Stuart Littler, Oliver Roberts, Alan McMahon, Scott Grix, Liam Finn, James Hasson, Joe Keyes, Luke Ambler, Dave Allen, Will Hope, George King
Subs (all used): Haydn Peacock, Matty Hadden, James Kelly, Gareth Gill
Tries: Roberts (2), Dunne (5, 52), Littler (29, 74), Hasson (39), Peacock (56), King (66), Grix (77)
Goals: Finn 5/9
Half time: 0-22
Referee: Patrice Benausse (France)