Australia cruised into the World Cup quarter-finals with a comfortable 34-0 win over Lebanon in front of a boisterous crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium to cap off a spectacular day of international rugby league.
Australia far from perfect
The Kangaroos did what they had to do to top Pool A, but coach Mal Meninga won't be entirely pleased after his side's scrappy win. While they were defensively sound, Australia made 14 errors and conceded nine penalties to repeatedly let their opponents off the hook. Some of that rust can be put down to bulk changes, and there's no doubting the green and golds will improve out of sight when stars Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Josh Dugan, Tyson Frizell and Josh McGuire return for next week's quarter-final against Samoa. Cameron Munster was the shining light at left centre and Ben Hunt showed his worth off the bench, but Meninga will nervously wait for the charge sheet to be handed down following Aaron Woods' dangerous tackle on Tim Mannah late in the game.
The Cedars house rules
There have been some special moments throughout the World Cup, but Saturday's three-course offering will be hard to beat. Tonga got the ball rolling with a stunning win over New Zealand, Scotland went within a whisker of shocking Samoa, and Lebanon's fans completed the hat-trick with their music, dancing and general buzz making the Sydney Football Stadium the place to be. The result mightn't have gone their way, but the Lebanese fans brought an energy that would be the envy of most NRL teams.
Maloney's mixed bag
James Maloney's World Cup debut didn't quite go to plan with the Panthers-bound playmaker coughing up the ball three times in an uncharacteristically poor opening 15 minutes. The premiership-winning five-eighth lost the ball cold on two occasions when he tried to push the pass and also fumbled the football when he backed up a half-break made by Cameron Smith. It wasn't all doom and gloom as Maloney hit Cameron Munster with an out ball to help the Aussies open the scoring and then backed up a wonderful offload from Reagan Campbell-Gillard to extend the lead with a try of his own.
Josh Mansour's homecoming of sorts
Josh Mansour wouldn't have played for Lebanon had they selected him. It had nothing to do with the Cedars – he is proud of his heritage and has represented them several times – but he wanted to spend time with his wife and new born child after an eventful 12 months. His plans were thrown into disarray when Darius Boyd was ruled out of the World Cup, opening the door for the Panthers winger to earn a Kangaroos recall. Mansour wasted little time heading over to the Lebanese players when he arrived at the Sydney Football Stadium and there were plenty of smiles and some exuberant handshakes as he embraced the players who would have been his teammates under different circumstances. However, the reception from the crowd was far frostier as the strong Lebanese contingent booed him every time he touched the ball. Fittingly, he conceded a penalty in the ruck in the sixth minute to bring the crowd to their feet, but the biggest cheer of the night came in the 20th minute when he lost the ball with the try line begging. Mansour was able to see the funny side of things and laughed at the error, and to their credit, the crowd maintained the friendly banter for the full 80 minutes.
No fairytale ending for Chris Saab
It was meant to be the best night of his career, but Chris Saab's long-awaited World Cup debut didn't go to script with the veteran Lebanon back-rower forced off after 22 minutes after collecting an accidental shot from Kangaroos big man David Klemmer. The 35-year-old was meant to make his World Cup debut against France but was knocked out in the warm-up just minutes out from the clash in Canberra. The Cedars veteran also missed last week's clash against England but was cleared to take on Australia. Saab looked comfortable in the opening 20 minutes with 31 metres and eight tackles but his night ended prematurely in what shaped as a regulation charge into the defensive line. The back-rower tried to get back to his feet but immediately stumbled back to the turf, with doctors quick to rule him out for the rest of the game after he failed his Head Injury Assessment. It was a horrible way to end what had been a night 17 years in the making, and the rugby league world will be hoping he can recover for the quarter-finals.