Head butt mars thrilling Pacific Test

A surprise comeback by Petero Civoniceva failed to help Fiji secure a Four Nations berth as out of favour Canterbury centre and rookie Cronulla halfback Penani Manumaleali'i led a 12-man Samoa to victory in the Pacific Test at Penrith on Saturday night..

Samoa will now join Australia, New Zealand and England in the end-of-season tournament after avenging their World Cup quarter final loss to the Bati with a 32-16 win in a spirited encounter in which Cronulla forward Sam Tagatese was sent off for headbutting Sydney Roosters prop Kane Evans.

With nine of their World Cup squad unavailable, Fiji coach Rick Stone convinced Civoniceva to come out of retirement in a bid to help the Bati repeat their impressive campaign in England.

The 38-year-old Broncos great had not played since captaining Fiji in their semi-final loss to Australia at Wembley Stadium last November but admitted at the time he may play in the Four Nations qualifier and was a late inclusion on the bench.

However, the loss of halfback Aaron Groom after a head clash with Samoa forward Dominique Peyroux proved costly for the Bati as they had to rely on Alipate Tani and James Storer from Collegians in the Illawarra Coal League to lead them around.

A 9-1 penalty count also hurt Fiji, who had led 16-6 before Groom was forced to the sidelines in the 35th minute. 

Manumaleali'i, who has played one NRL match for the Sharks, was a worthy hero for Samoa after having his World Cup campaign marred by injury and the death of his mother in a car crash.

The former Junior Kiwis representative scored the first try of the match in the 13th minute and crossed again from a run around with Cronulla team-mate Sam Tagatese just before halftime to reduce the Bati's lead to 16-12.

Manumaleali'i's third try in the 45th minute, when he raced out of dummy half after a Tagataese break, put Samoa ahead for the first time in the match and they were never headed again as Inu combined with replacement Carlos Tuimavave to seal the win.

The goalkicking Bulldogs centre, who was a member of New Zealand's World Cup squad but has been confined to NSW Cup this season, played a key role in tries to Tuimavave and winger Daniel Vidot after outleaping Semi Radradra for kicks.  

Tuimavave's 53rd minute try was the best of the match after the Warriors playmaker chipped for Inu to bat the ball back to Vidot and then juggled it after winning the race to another kick by the Broncos winger.

Inu then soared high to bat back another Tuimavave kick for Vidot to score in the 65th minute.

While the match was played in a festive atmosphere at SportingBet Stadium, there was no doubt the players knew what was at stake and Korbin Sims set the tone with a bone-rattling tackle on Isaac Liu that shook the ball loose from the Samoa forward near the Fiji tryline.

Korbin and brother Ashton, who skippered the Bati for the first time, took the match to Samoa but Fiji could not hang on after early tries to fullback Kevin Naiqama, Storer and Lote Tuqiri, who also kicked his first goal since 2002.

Tagataese was sent off in the 78th minute after an ugly incident with Evans in which the pair had hold of each other but the Sharks forward managed to land several headbutts.


This story Head butt mars thrilling Pacific Test first appeared on Brisbane Times.