As seen at NRL.com
A starring performance from Jahrome Hughes in his return from injury has seen New Zealand officially book their place in the World Cup quarterfinals with 48-10 win over Ireland at Headingley.
With the Kiwis’ first-choice spine all playing together for the first time in the tournament, Michael Maguire’s side overcame a slow start to eventually overpower the Wolfhounds in a ten-tries-to-two victory — setting up a likely quarterfinal clash against Fiji next week.
Ireland, on the other hand, face a nervous wait as to their potential progression, with the Wolfhounds needing Jamaica to upset Lebanon in order to secure their spot in the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Having missed the opening two matches with a thigh strain, Hughes marked his return to the team with a starring performance — scoring his side’s first try of the game before setting up the following four to give New Zealand a commanding half-time lead that they would not relinquish despite a determined Ireland effort.
Hughes’ contributions came despite a clunky start to the game from the Kiwis, with Ireland taking a 2-0 lead after 11 minutes through an Ed Chamberlain penalty goal.
The Storm superstar quickly took over the contest, however, jinking his way back inside several defenders to give New Zealand the lead after 15 minutes before slicing open the Wolfhounds with his kicking game to put right edge outside backs Jordan Rapana and Peta Hiku over for tries within the space of seven minutes.
With a healthy Irish contingent in the crowd at Leeds, Louis Senior gave the fans something to cheer about with his intercept off a Briton Nikora pass giving Ireland their first try of the game, but there was no denying Hughes his dominance of the first half. The Kiwis halfback quickly took back control of the game, stepping back inside Luke Keary to put Hiku over for his second, before linking up with Dylan Brown just before the break to put Ronaldo Mulitalo over for a try.
With Kieran Foran initially shifting into hooker for the second half, Brandon Smith showed his ball-playing skills with a deft inside pass for James Fisher-Harris to extend the Kiwis’ lead after half-time, before Foran returned to the halves as Hughes was given an early mark after an hour following his second try of the game.
The shift did little to dent the Kiwis’ attacking enthusiasm, however, with Foran setting up Kenny Bromwich to score his first try of this year’s World Cup while Joey Manu put the icing on the cake with typically classy try late on.
In an otherwise positive night for New Zealand, enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will face a nervous wait from the match review committee after he was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Dan Norman. The Roosters prop was only just returning from suspension, and with no monetary fines system in place for the World Cup, could be ruled out for the Kiwis’ upcoming knockout round matches.
It might not have been the best attacking start to the game for the Kiwis, but Jahrome Hughes eventually got the scoring underway when he took matters into his own hands after 14 minutes. Despite being flat-footed when he collected the ball, the Storm halfback showed a sharp pair of heels to burst through several attempted tacklers, before stepping his way through the defensive line to score.
New Zealand will have a good break now before their quarterfinal, which will likely be against Fiji next Sunday (AEDT). Coach Michael Maguire will be hoping Marata Niukore (pectoral), Moses Leota (hamstring) and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (calf) will all be available for selection, especially with a potential suspension looming for Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Ireland, meanwhile, will face a nervous wait as to their potential progression through to the knockout rounds. The Wolfhounds need Jamaica to upset Lebanon to continue their tournament; a win for the Cedars would see them leapfrog Ireland into second place.