LEEDS, England (AP) — Sonny Bill Williams rebounded from an embarrassing botched try by scoring three as New Zealand blew away Papua New Guinea 56-10 to sweep its Rugby League World Cup group on Friday.
Williams was humbled in the Kiwis' group opener against Samoa when he slipped over the dead-ball line before he could touch down. There was no mistaking this time, and the star second-rower actually dotted down a fourth try, but that was disallowed on review because of interference by teammate Bryson Goodwin.
More than 18,000 showed up for a match without any bearing on the playoffs, and they were entertained by the unrelenting class of the Kiwis, and the stubbornness of the Kumuls. New Zealand scored at least 40 points for a fourth straight game, including the cup warm-up against the Cook Islands, and managed 40 by halftime at Headingley Stadium. The Kiwis racked up seven of their 10 tries in the first half, and Shaun Johnson nailed eight goals and hit the post with his other two attempts.
New Zealand will return to Leeds in a week for the first quarterfinal, against either Scotland or Italy. The only downside for the Kiwis was the sight of scrumhalf Thomas Le'ulua'i limping off only two minutes after going on as a second-half substitute. Added to the squad during the cup, and one of five survivors of the 2008 cup-winning side, he may have aggravated a groin strain which sidelined him until this game.
Williams spun over in a double tackle for his first try, broke three weak tackles for his second, and one more for the hat trick seconds before halftime. Wingers Roger Tuivasa-Scheck and Dean Whare scored two tries each, and also on the board were Goodwin, Frank Nu'uausala and Elijah Taylor.
PNG thrilled with the first try of the second half, a Jessie Joe Nandye break setting up Dion Aiye from halfway, and the last try, Aiye passing the favour to Wellington Albert.