Jahrome Hughes inspires New Zealand to comfortable win over Ireland

New Zealand half-back Jahrome Hughes showed his class on his World Cup debut by helping his side to a 48-10 victory over Ireland at Headingley to clinch top spot in Group C.

Ireland had no answer to the silky skills of the Melbourne scrum-half, who sat out the Kiwis’ opening two matches because of injury, but they played with plenty of spirit and gave their fans something to cheer with winger Louis Senior scoring a try in each half to go joint top of the scoring charts with six touchdowns in his three games.

It was a big improvement on the Wolfhounds’ costly 32-14 defeat by Lebanon but their tournament exit will be confirmed if the Cedars beat Jamaica in Leigh on Sunday.

New Zealand hit their straps with 10 tries but they are facing a potential disciplinary worry with fiery prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, fresh from serving a three-match ban carried over from the NRL, sin-binned for an ugly high tackle on replacement front rower Dan Norman just before half-time.

Norman played no further part in the game after failing his head injury assessment and Ireland also lost another of their substitutes, Henry O’Kane, in similar fashion early in the second half.

The Wolfhounds went into the game without three front-row forwards because of injury and suspension but they were by no means disgraced against their world number-one ranked opponents.

New Zealand v Ireland – Rugby League World Cup – Group C – Headingley Stadium
Peta Hiku (right) celebrates after going over for New Zealand (PA)

They had huge support among the 14,044 crowd and they had plenty to cheer in the opening stages as Ed Chamberlain gave them the lead with a 12th-minute penalty awarded for a ball steal.

But the partisan fans had little option but to admire the sublime skills of Hughes and his half-back partner Dylan Brown, who were paired together for the first time in the tournament.

Hughes demonstrated electric footwork to score the first try, which followed a careless offload by Ireland prop James Hasson, and produced a pinpoint lofted kick to corner for winger Jordan Rapana to score the second.

The Melbourne half-back then came up with a deft grubber kick for centre Peta Hiku to score his first try before coming up with a half-back to get the former Warrington man over for his second.

In between, Senior brought the biggest cheer of the night by picking off Briton Nikora’s pass to sprint 40 metres for Ireland’s try.

New Zealand v Ireland – Rugby League World Cup – Group C – Headingley Stadium
Jordan Rapana touched down for the Kiwis (PA)

New Zealand were temporarily reduced to 12 men on 37 minutes when Waerea-Hargreaves was given his yellow card but they still managed to carve out an easy score for left winger Ronaldo Mulitalo.

Leading 24-6 at the break, the Kiwis went further ahead seven minutes into the second half when Rapana slid over at the corner for his second try before front rower James Fisher-Harris crashed through some tiring Irish limbs for their seventh try.

Brown took over the goalkicking duties after Rapana could manage just two successes from his five attempts in the first half but was wide with his first two kicks at goal before finally converting Hughes’ second try on the hour.

That was the signal for coach Michael Maguire to give Hughes a breather but there was no respite for Ireland as his replacement Kieran Foran hoisted a high kick from which second rower Kenny Bromwich scored his side’s ninth try.

Brown’s second goal made it 44-6 but Ireland reached double figures on 65 minutes when Senior grabbed his second try of the night after pouncing on Mulitalo’s handling error.

The Kiwis then had the final say when classy full-back Joey Manu sliced through for their 10th try.