Fiji have ended a miserable New Zealand run at the Rugby League World Cup, downing the Kiwis 4-2 in a gritty quarterfinal upset in Wellington.
Just a week after falling 28-22 to Tonga, the Kiwis have been beaten by a second tier-two side in a low-scoring match they had never looked like winning.Two Apisai Koroisau penalties to a sole Shaun Johnson effort on Saturday were enough to give the Bati a well-deserved win over a Kiwi team which never managed to get out of first gear.
Despite the disappointment, coach David Kidwell still managed to praise his team.
"Fiji played a simple game, but the boys' effort out there? I couldn't be more proud of them.
"It's definitely been the most-enjoyable campaign I've been part of. I'm proud of this group of men but, unfortunately, we didn't get the result we wanted today.
"We didn't play smart again, made a couple of errors on the first tackle and put ourselves under pressure."
An error-ridden performance from the Kiwis was comprehensively punished by a Fijian outfit, who showed more pace, poise and precision than the lacklustre New Zealanders.
Fiji face the daunting task of toppling the Kangaroos in next weekend's Brisbane semifinal. Defending champions Australia thumped Samoa 46-0 in Friday night's quarterfinal in Townsville.
The early chances went to Fiji, Brayden Wiliame darting through after five minutes but denied the try when he lost the ball over the line, while Marcelo Montoya came close 15 minutes later down the left edge. Fiji's defence, largely untested during an unbeaten pool run, was never really pressured in the first 40 minutes, the Kiwis their own worst enemies with a succession of handling errors and missed tackles.
The Bati continued to dominate possession and territory as the game wore on, Akuila Uate unleashing Henry Raiwalui down the left after 30 minutes with only a despairing ankle tap between him and the game's first try.
Koroisau's 14th-minute penalty was the only difference between the two sides at the break, Johnson's penalty levelling the scores four minutes after the restart.
At that point, Fijian skipper Kevin Naiqama said he could sense victory.
"When they took that kick - if a team feel confident they can score against you, they'll take the tap," he said.
"I was telling the boys at the moment when they were placing the kick, to take confidence - it was respect to us, to our defence, and that's why they took the two points. At that moment, I felt the utmost confidence we could get the job done."
Milne's 62nd-minute penalty restored Fiji's lead, a margin they defended with ease against a Kiwi team bereft of ideas.
Naiqama said that defensive effort had been a work in progress all week, and it was satisfying to see the hard work pay off.
"I'm just real proud of the boys' efforts, fighting all the way to the last second. It's a historic win but, in saying that, the job's only half done and we've got Australia to focus on next week."