Rugby League World Cup: New Zealand open defence with victory over Samoa
Manu Vatuvei scored a hat-trick of tries as New Zealand made a winning start to the defence of their World Cup crown.
Last Updated: 27/10/13 10:24pm
The Kiwis were strolling to victory after scoring at a point a minute throughout the first quarter and they led 36-4 until collapsing in dramatic fashion to concede four tries in 13 minutes.
The holders' embarrassment was complete when Sonny Bill Williams, back in the side after a five-year absence, broke clear 12 minutes from the end but lost his footing on the greasy surface and failed to touch down before sliding over the dead-ball area.
Williams' misfortune was lapped up by the sell-out crowd of 13,965 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium who took the Samoans to their heart.
At least the former All Black was able to experience his first win as a Kiwi at the eighth attempt but coach Stephen Kearney will be alarmed at his side's defensive lapses.
The Samoans, who were led by St Helens forward Sia Soliola, their third captain in as many matches following the withdrawal of Warrington's new signing Roy Asotasi and the injury to Wigan forward Harrison Hansen, were hammered 52-16 by England Knights in their warm-up fixture and looked to be heading for another rout after a one-sided opening.
Williams created the opening for the first try, putting impressive centre Dean Whare into a gap and full-back Justin Hoffman was in support to finish off for the first of New Zealand's eight tries.
The Kiwis' 20-year-old Samoa-born debutant winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck then demonstrated his class by scorching down the wing to get captain Simon Mannering over for the first of his two tries before taking Whare's pass to produce a superb finish himself at the corner.
Shaun Johnson put Mannering in for his second try with a delightful inside pass and his third goal made it 22-0 after 21 minutes.
The Samoans eventually stemmed the black tide and generated the biggest cheer of the first half two minutes before the break when half-back Ben Roberts produced a fend and a dummy to score his side's only try.
The Kiwis were kept scoreless for the second quarter after Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had a try disallowed for a double movement but they cut loose in the opening moments of the second half.
Vatuvei went over for two tries within nine minutes of the re-start and Johnson fashioned one for hooker Issac Luke as New Zealand stretched their lead to 36-4.
Impressive centre Joseph Leilua cheered both the Samoans and the partisan locals by charging over for a second try on 52 minutes and the Kiwis were rocking when their opponents went over for two more in quick succession.
Replacement half-back Penani Manumeasili got a touch to his own grubber kick after Hoffman failed to clear the danger and prop Suaiia Matagi took hooker Pita Godinet's pass from dummy half to crash over.
The Kiwis were in total disarray when Mannering lost the ball 20 minutes out from his own line to present winger Antonio Winterstein with a gift of a try and Milford's second goal cut the gap to 12 points.
Williams fluffed his chance to making a tryscoring comeback but the Kiwis had the final say when Vatuvei completed his hat-trick eight minutes from the end and Johnson kicked his fifth goal from eight attempts.