25 Nov 2013

Sport: Pacific still playing catch up with rugby league big guns

5:48 pm on 25 November 2013

Fiji bowed out of the Rugby League World Cup at the weekend after a 64-0 hammering by Australia.

The Bati finished as the top performing Pacific country, but as Vinnie Wylie reports, the gulf between the big three and the rest of the world is as big as ever.

Fiji's semi-final drubbing was their second defeat to the Kangaroos in the space of three weeks for a grand total of 2 points for and 96 against. It mirrors another big loss to the same foe at the 2008 World Cup, where Fiji also reached the semi-finals. Bati coach Rick Stone admits a 64-0 scoreline is a tough way, to finish but says he's proud of the Bati's efforts team's overall World Cup performance.

"RICK STONE: Bit of a sour taste in our mouth about our performance yesterday. We wanted to see the improvement of what we'd put up in the tournament so far but we took a couple of steps backwards unfortunately. I don't think it should dampen our spirits about the tour and we definitely found a couple of players that we think can play at the international level. Some of them are young players who are going to form the nucleus of our team going forward."

Toa Samoa were the only other Pacific team to make the knockout rounds before succumbing to Fiji in the quarter finals. The President of Rugby League Samoa, Tagaloa Faafouina Su'a, says while they would have liked to go further, a top eight finish is a good result.

TAGALOA FAAFOUINA SUA: This is the first time ever that our Toa Samoa team has made it to the quarter final. Considering the fact that our preparations from the start with lots of challenges - playing pulling out due to injuries and other commitments and then we fielded a really young team - some players for the first time they played an international test - in the end two wins [and] two losses, making the quarter finals, is like a step from the other years.

Papua New Guinea coach Adrian Lam has faced mounting criticism at home after the Kumuls failed to win a game at the tournament. Lam is contracted through until the next World Cup in 2018. He says after years of upheaval the rebuilding process will take time and he has no intention of walking away.

ADRIAN LAM: With the social media and whatnot they're never happy up there whether you're winning or losing. A lot of the criticism is brought in by people who have been involved in rugby league before but also assisted it to get to its knees so we've got to try and just keep real about the whole situation and just forge forward with what we know. I know I've got Mal on board now and that's only going to be a benefit for me and the team and the country, and just persist with pushing forward with that and allowing the system to work for itself.

The Cook Islands and Tonga also failed to make it out of the round robin phase, with the star-studded Mate Ma'a left ruing an opening defeat to Scotland and the Kukis paying the price for a shock loss to the USA. Talks are ongoing about expanding this year's Pacific test concept, with as many as three test matches in the works for April 2014. Fiji's top four finish confirmed their spot in the Four Nations tournament at the end of next year, alongside England, New Zealand and Australia. Meanwhile Australia and New Zealand will contest the World Cup final at Old Trafford in Manchester this weekend.