Fiji‘s pace and power proved too much for Mark Aston’s side in what was, at times, a brutal encounter at a packed out Spotland.
With the top three going through to the last eight from Group A, it would take a shock beyond even Sheffield Challenge Cup winner Aston’s capabilities, given Ireland play England and Australia in their remaining two games.
Two sets of brothers helped Fiji to dominate, with forwards Ashton, Tariq and Korbin Sims giving it to the Irish pack, and full-back Kevin Naiqama linking up with centre Wes as Fiji‘s backs impressed.
They almost lost their way through a period of ill discipline in the first half, but Ireland rarely looked like scoring beyond the one they did get before half time, and two late consolations long after the game had been lost.
For all their physical play, Fiji showed much creativity in the halves, and a smart kick from Aaron Groomtrapped Scott Grix in goal to force a drop out. From the subsequent set, Kevin Naiqama ran at the line and found a cut out pass for Akuila Uate, not the last time the pair would link up on the night, for 4-0.
With the partisan crowd well and truly behind them, Naiqama himself got on the scoresheet in slightly fortunate circumstances, when James Storer‘s miskick came back off an Irish defender, and Naiqama beat three tackles to get over.
Straight from the kick-off, Naiqama burst through a gap and then offloaded, as Fiji threatened another score, before things got tasty.
Unfortunately for Fiji, their enthusiasm was getting the better of them, and they started to be penalised for their misdemeanours.
Waqa seemed to be reading the Ireland set plays, shooting out the line on several occasions, but he was nearly punished when Mendeika quickly moved the ball on for Dave Allen, only for the Widnes back-rower to drop the ball when a try chance seemed likely.
That killed Irish momentum, and a fine kick by Groom forced a drop-out to get Fiji back on the front foot. Shortly after, Uate had a try chalked off for a forward pass.
Fiji spent the last six minutes of the first half with 12 men, after Eloni Vunakece was sin-binned, the first of the tournament, but they still managed to nudge the score along to 12-4 at the break, thanks to Wes Naiqama‘s penalty.
The battle royal continued in the rain, and in front of a rugby league record crowd at Spotland, after the break.
Groom caused Grix more problems on 52 minutes, and the Huddersfield full-back lost possession on impact, enabling Tariq Sims to collect an offload and get a try.
Ireland at least managed to give their support something to shout about, with Damien Blanch sliding over for a consolation effort, and then Hasson powering over a try that his first half efforts in standing up to the fearsome Fiji pack, probably deserved.
Fiji: K Naiqama, Koroibete, Waqa, W Naiqama, Uate, Noilea, Groom, A Sims, Storer, Civoniceva, T Sims, Bukuya, K Sims. Interchanges: Koroisau, Vunakece, Evans, Roqica.
Scorers: Tries – Uate 3, Naiqama, T Sims, K Sims. Goals: W Naiqama 4.
Ireland: Grix, Blanch, Littler, Pewhairangi, Richards, Mendeika, Finn, White, Kostjasyn, O’Carroll, McCarthy, Allen, Currie. Interchanges: Beswick, Hasson, Haggerty, Mullally.
Scorers: Tries – McCarthy, Blanch, Hasson. Goals: Richards.
Venue: Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
Referee: Phil Bentham
Photo courtesy of www.swpixrlwc2013.com