Fiji were left stunned at a controversial captain's challenge that saw the video referee overturn a Joey Manu drop ball, which helped New Zealand take the lead in their Rugby League quarter-final thriller.
It took until the 70th minute at Hull's MKM Stadium on Saturday for New Zealand to hit the lead after an underwhelming 24-18 win, which would have done little to worry Mal Meninga's Kangaroos.
The tightness of the game brought back memories of the 2017 quarter-final when the Kiwis were knocked out by Fiji at the same stage, costing then-coach David Kidwell his job.
But this time Michael Maguire's men were saved by the mercurial abilities of Manu.
However, the controversy in the thrilling quarter-final clash came with the score in the balance at 18-all.
Manu was charging down the middle of the field when he appeared to drop the ball following a Viliame Kikau tackle.
Manu pleaded with the referee for a strip and a captain's challenge was called.
"I have a loose carry, but the video referee will have the final say," Andrew Voss said in commentary.
Former NRL star James Graham agreed.
"As he spins out, he just lets go of it. I doin't think there is a pull on it," he added.
However, the video referee saw it differently and awarded New Zealand a penalty on the halfway line.
"I disagree with that," Voss said.
"This is a cruel, cruel twist of fate," Graham added.
New Zealand went on to score moments later, which prompted NRL great Corey Parker to label the penalty a vital moment in the clash.
“There’s the pivotal moment right there, I personally don’t believe it was a strip, the referee and the Bunker found it to be a strip there from Viliame Kikau,” Parker said on Fox Sports.
Yvonne Sampson questioned whether Fiji were “robbed of their World Cup” chance.
Others also weighed-in.
What a tackle that is from Brandon Wakeham. Proper World Cup game this between Fiji and New Zealand. Shame about the fixed semi-finals - should have been winner of this against England next week. #RLWC2021
— James Gordon (@jdgsport) November 5, 2022
The video referee in Fiji New Zealand literally doesn't know the rules.
— Ewan MacKenna (@EwanMacKenna) November 5, 2022
Cannot believe he gave that as as a strip. Dropped it clean. Embarrassing wrong video ref decision 😡
— Ken Smith (@KenSmith3001) November 5, 2022
Good to see the Bunker is as bad in the UK. They must have thought Manu was playing in a Roosters jersey. What a howler!
— Don O'Brien (@bigdon61) November 5, 2022
Ah, shame that. New Zealand have been better in the second half, and they needed to be, but you have to feel for Fiji. What a fantastic game of rugby to have watched, and one long overdue in #RLWC2021
— Mark H (@neonbubble) November 5, 2022
New Zealand seeking improvement ahead of Australia clash
Manu, who was named man of the match and clocked over 300 metres with the ball in hand, got them out of jail by scoring the try which drew them level at 18-18.
He then won the penalty goal which helped them hit the lead, before a late Jordan Rapana try sealed the victory and booked them a place in the semi-finals at Elland Road on Friday.
"It aged me a bit," Maguire said. "It wasn't the style we would've liked to have played but they stuck to the plan and got through.
"We need to get better and the start, they jumped us and you can't do that."
The win puts Manu on a collision course with Sydney Roosters teammate James Tedesco, who appears his closest rival for the Golden Boot.
"He (Manu) did a great job for us and I think he's learning a little bit about the players around him too," Maguire said.
"It's probably the third game that we've had our spine all together, so we'll be better again on the back of that."
Maguire expects the Kiwis to be at full strength for the clash with Australia, with enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves a chance to be unleashed after sitting out the Fiji game under suspension.
They needed his presence in Hull, given they were all at sea in the opening 20 minutes.
Tries to Fiji duo Maika Sivo and Kevin Naiqama allowed the under-fancied Bati to take a shock lead.
Ronaldo Mulitalo hit back for New Zealand before the break but Naiqama then registered a second to open up a 12-point gap at 18-6.
Briton Nikora dived over for the Kiwis not long after, before Manu crashed his way through some tiring Fijian defenders to square it up at 18-18 with a quarter of an hour to go.
Chasing a score, Manu lobbied for a captain's challenge after referee Gerard Sutton had deemed he had knocked on.
Like most things with Manu it came off, the video referee adjudicating that Fiji forward Viliame Kikau had completed a two-on-one steal, allowing Rapana to put the Kiwis ahead with 10 minutes left.
The Kiwis winger then finished in the corner in the dying seconds to secure the win.
"I've got a lot of players in my squad that have played semis and grand finals," Maguire said.
"The step up in game (intensity), that's what it's about, and that's what they want to play."
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