At times, it looked like the Kiwis would run away for a landslide victory, but in a second half of great entertainment, Samoa gave it to their opponents and almost threatened an unlikely comeback.
Such was the way that Samoa got to the Kiwis in the second half, superstar Sonny Bill Williamsincredibly failed to ground the ball having broke through the middle, slipping and putting a foot on the dead ball line as he went to score.
Having trailed 36-4 early in the second half, Samoa fought back to within 12, no doubt rueing the three missed conversion attempts by Anthony Milford, only for Matu Vatuvei’s 73rd minute try to put an end to any comeback hopes.
New Zealand raced in to a 22-0 lead at near enough a point a minute in the first half, in a show of blistering pace and attacking prowess, which had the crowd fearing a blow out.
It took a moment of magic from Sonny Bill Williams to set up the first score. His delayed short ball sent the impressive Dean Whare hareing through a gap, and as he was held up round the legs, Josh Hoffman ran round to take the ball and cross.
That showed the way for the Kiwis, and they found a lot of joy down their right. Whare’s combination with debutant Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the shoulder of Williams showed great promise, and the two outside backs combined for the second try. New Zealand shifted it right and an overlap appeared for Whare to send Tuivasa-Sheck away, and he showed great pace before sending Simon Mannering in around the full back.
Tuivasa-Sheck then got himself on the scoresheet, finishing superbly in the corner. Mannering crossed for his second try shortly after, and the writing was on the wall.
But Samoa stemmed the tide, for the rest of the first half at least, with Ben Roberts‘ 40-20 setting them up with a platform to attack. They finally got a reward for their efforts, when Roberts broke through a tackle and held off a defender to touch down, moments before half time.
New Zealand then scored three tries in the first eight minutes of the second half. First Vatuvei climbed high to take a Kieran Foran kick, before Isaac Luke crossed following a barnstorming run up the middle by Frank-Paul Nu’uausala.
When Vatuvei added his second on 48 minutes, it was a case of how many.
But the game came to life after that. A scuffle at a scrum seemed to put fire in the Samoan bellies, and the 13,965 crowd at Warrington soon got behind what turned in to an unlikely comeback attempt.
The ball was moved through several hands to the right for Joseph Leilua to hold off his mark over and smash the ball down to make the score 36-8.
Then came a moment of controversy. Nippy dummy half Penani Manumeasili grubbered the ball through on the last and chased, to see it fielded by Josh Hoffman on the line. Manumeasili then went to steal the ball, which he did, to ground for a try, but it went upstairs due to the involvement of Mose Masoe.
It seemed that Masoe had made it a two man tackle, but Thierry Alibert deemed it a try, and Samoa had reduced arrears to 36-12.
The noise of the crowd helped to give Samoa belief, and they scored their fourth try when Pita Godinet‘s sharp pass out of dummy half on the last tackle enabled Suaia Matagi to dive over from close range.
But as they did that, Antonio Winterstein pick-pocketed a Kiwi attacker and ran away unopposed for a try.
It went upstairs, and after no try had initially flashed up on the screen, the try was given and Samoa were within two scores.
By now, the game had turned in to a World Cup meeting to remember.
But there was still time for more drama in front of the packed crowd.
Sonny Bill, on his return to the Kiwis line-up, burst through showing great speed and power, but left it late to put the ball down in-goal, and he slipped, eventually grounding the ball. The decision went upstairs, and replays showed that his foot was over the dead ball line, and the try was washed off.
After a breathless second half, Samoa could go home proud of their display, while holders New Zealand, impressive at times, will be wondering just how they were drawn in to such an arm wrestle in the second period.
New Zealand: Hoffman, Tuivasa-Sheck, Whare, Goodwin, Vatuvei, Foran, Johnson, Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Bromwich, Pritchard, Williams, Mannering. Interchanges: Taylor, Moa, Kasiano, Nu’uausala.
Scorers: Hoffman, Mannering 2, Tuivasa-Sheck, Vatuvei 3, Luke. Goals: Johnson 5.
Samoa: Milford, A Winterstein, Sa’u, Leilua, Vidot, Maitua, Roberts, Fa’alogo, Godinet, Martagi, Soliola, F Winterstein, Sue. Interchanges: Manumeasili, Ah Mau, Taulua, Masoe.
Scorers: Roberts, Leilua, Manumeasili, Matagi, A Winterstein. Goals: Roberts 2.
Referee: Richard Silverwood
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington