Another dominant performance by Australia has seen the Kangaroos score a big 66-6 win against Italy in the final preliminary round of matches in Group B at #RLWC2021.
The Aussies piled on 12 tries at Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens on Saturday to move into the quarterfinals with a perfect 3-0 record.
The Australians opened the game by making the big Italian forwards tackle relentlessly in an early effort to get on the front foot, while when they had possession, the Azzurris spun the ball out wide to try to skirt around the edge of the Aussie defence.
Australian backrower Jeremiah Nanai was named Player-of-the-Match for his non-stop efforts throughout the contest, including a try in the second half.
“I’m very grateful to have earned this award,” he said. “I just wanted to do my best out there and give it all. This jersey means a lot to me, and I’m just really honoured to play for it.”
It took the Kangaroos seven minutes to cross for their first score when left centre Valentine Holmes plucked a chip-kick out of the air put up by five-eighth Daly Cherry-Evans. A few minutes later, winger Murray Taulagi bagged the first of his two tries on the night by finishing off a backline movement in the corner.
Four more tries were added to the scoreboard in the first forty with fullback James Tedesco chiming in with one when he dummied his way through several would-be Italian tacklers. Halfback and goalkicker Nathan Cleary finally found his range by converting that score after missing his first two shots at goal.
Wing Campbell Graham scored the first of his double when he powered through Italian defenders.
At that point, the Australians started to make a few errors, knocking the ball on and getting out of synch, until right centre Latrell Mitchell steamrolled his way to the try line in an individual effort. Then right on halftime, Taulagi dotted down for the second time in the half after Mitchell set him up with an impressive back-handed pass.
Cleary converted all four tries to see the Kangaroos head to the sheds leading 30-0 at halftime.
Five minutes into the second stanza and the Australians were in again. This time it was forward Isaah Yeo, who came off the bench to ground the ball over the line as he finished a slick movement that saw the ball go through several sets of hands.
Minutes later, second-rower Liam Martin scored Australia’s eighth try. Cleary added the extra points to both tries to extend the margin to 42-0.
Then in the 52nd minute, and much to the crowd’s delight, Italy got a try when interchange player Ronny Palumbo won the race to the ball in the try zone following a kick-through on the back of the Italians having regained possession from a short restart. Five-eighth and goalkicker Jack Campagnolo converted the score.
But from then on, it was all Australia with four more tries by loose forward Cameron Murray, winger Graham with his second, Nanai and prop Lindsay Collins getting his first in the green and gold. Cleary converted all four tries to round out the scoring.
After the match, Australian head coach Mal Meninga heaped praise on the Italians.
“I want to compliment Italy for the way they played,” he said. “I thought they were very physical and congratulations to them for the way they played the game.
“I thought we hung in there very well. I thought we played with a fair bit of composure, and we got the job done.”
With their sights now set on the money rounds, Meninga says it’s time to sharpen the focus.
“We’ve got to knuckle down now and the challenge for us is to get better,” he added. “We’ve got to be on our mettle, and we need to have a good week of preparation.”
As for the Italians, their tournament is over, but head coach Leo Epifania says they stuck to the job.
“Whatever turned out score-wise we didn’t want to dodge any of the collisions out there,” he said. “We wanted bodies contacting with bodies the best we could, and I thought we achieved that.”
Australia’s likely opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be Lebanon, provided the Cedars beat Jamaica in their Group C match on Sunday.
Tries: V. Holmes (7), M. Taulagi (12), J. Tedesco (19), C. Graham (28), L. Mitchell (36), M. Taulagi (40), I. Yeo (46), L. Martin (51), C. Murray (58), C. Graham (68), J. Nanai (74), L. Collins (80)
Goals: N. Cleary (20), N. Cleary (30), N. Cleary (38), N. Cleary (48), N. Cleary (52), N. Cleary (60), N. Cleary (69), N. Cleary (76), N. Cleary (80)
Tries: R. Palumbo (54)
Goals: J. Campagnolo (55)