Samoa defeat Fiji, qualify for the Four Nations
Samoa have booked themselves a place alongside rugby league's heavyweights at this year's Four Nations tournament with an entertaining 32-16 win over Pacific rivals Fiji on Saturday.
A surprise appearance from retired NRL veteran Petero Civoniceva was not enough to get Fiji into the end-of-season competition, a Krisnan Inu-inspired Samoa proving too strong in front of a boisterous 9,063 fans at Sportingbet Stadium.
It was just the second time in seven clashes Samoa have beaten the Bati, avenging last year's World Cup devastating quarter-finals loss.
There was no shortage of bone-rattling hits in the battle between the Pacific Islands' best, Fiji's Korbin Sims kicking things off with a monster shoulder on Samoan Isaac Lui.
But it was Samoa who drew first blood, a superb left-foot step sending Penani Manumaleali'i over the line in the 12th minute for the first of an incredible hat-trick.
The Bati, however, responded moments later when Kevin Naiqama added to his dozen career tries in the NRL with a four-pointer off his own well-weighted grubber.
It was made all the sweeter by dual international Lote Tuqiri, who converted his first goal since booting one for Queensland in 2002, to level things at 6-6.
Civoniceva, playing his 51st career Test but just sixth for Fiji, didn't shy away from the action either, with the 38-year-old drawing cheers with every carry.
The crowd was just as loud for fellow veteran James Storer, who hasn't played first-grade in more than a decade but planted his first try for Fiji and their second of the night.
The 32-year-old followed it up with an exciting chip-and-chase, which eventually led to a Tuqiri four-pointer on 30 minutes for a 16-6 lead.
But it was Manumaleali'i's second try moments later that proved a turning point and gave Samoa a much-needed boost before the break, the gap narrowed to just four points thanks to a successful Inu conversion.
The 21-year-old, who made his NRL debut for Cronulla earlier this year, continued the run of points in the second stanza - his third try of the night turning the Samoans' first-half deficit into a surprise lead.
Carlos Tuimavave extended the margin with a freakish four-pointer soon after, with Daniel Vidot eventually sealing the win on the back of some handy aerial work from Inu.
Inu, relegated to NSW Cup for Canterbury this season, played a hand in many of Samoa's tries in a display sure to help his chances of a first-grade recall.
The game ended on a sour note, with Sam Tagatese sent off for a head butt on Fiji's Kane Evans in the dying minutes.
Samoa 32 (P Manumalealii 3 C Tuimavave D Vidot tries K Inu 6 goals) Fiji 16 (K Naiqama J Storer L Tuqiri tries L Tuqiri 2 goals) at Sportingbet Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein. Crowd: 9063