Australia strolled into the Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals with a 50-0 win over minnows Ireland in Limerick on Saturday.
Tim Sheens’ tournament favourites were not always totally convincing in their final group game but, as expected, were much too classy in near-freezing conditions at Thomond Park.
The Kangaroos ran in nine tries but defence was again the highlight as they didn’t concede a four-pointer for the second straight match.
Halfback Cooper Cronk and winger Jarryd Hayne both scored doubles while Daly Cherry-Evans, deputising for the rested Johnathan Thurston, was named man of the match and also got on the score sheet.
Paul Gallen and interchange forward Andrew Fifita caused all sorts of problems up front.
The win ensured Australia finished top of Group A and they will face tournament surprise packets the US in Wrexham next Saturday in the quarter-finals.
“We were happy with it,” Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens said of the win, Australia’s biggest in five years.
“We set ourselves some goals and I think the boys achieved them.
“Our kick-chase game was excellent and that’s what we really wanted to work hard on.
“I thought we got a little bit excited in the first half up near the line but settled back down in the second half.
“We weren’t worried about a score, even though we put a score on, but at the end of the day it was making sure our discipline and our kick-chase for the bigger games was exactly right.”
Ireland, featuring a sprinkling of NRL players including Canberra prop Brett White, had conceded 74 points in their opening two matches but tried hard in front of 5021 fans in bowing out of the tournament.
The hosts did themselves no favours with their ill-discipline, on the wrong end of a whopping 9-1 penalty count when trailing 26-0 at halftime.
The Kangaroos looked on course to run up a cricket score after Hayne scored out wide less than 90 seconds into the game.
Cronk busted through the line to add a second try in the 11th minute but some sloppy play and gallant defending by the Wolfhounds meant the Kangaroos weren’t able to get on a real roll in the first half.
Greg Bird got the scoreboard ticking over again in the 29th minute after being put through a gap by Cherry-Evans before Brett Morris crossed out wide in the 32nd minute.
Billy Slater then sold a dummy and scored out wide to give Australia a comfortable halftime lead.
The Kangaroos needed 17 minutes to add to the score after the break, with Cronk making a bust with relative ease to cross under the post for his second of the night.
Cherry-Evans scored with a fine solo effort three minutes later, regathering his own short kick before the impressive Fifita scored his first try for Australia in the 65th minute and Hayne added a second.
Ireland coach Mark Aston said his side suffered from the lop-sided penalty and possession count but praised his players’ character.
“It was always going to be tough, when you’re playing against a quality opposition,” Aston said.
“I’m immensely proud of what they served up tonight.
“I thought they stuck in there and were really good and had a dig.”