The Kiwis overcame a feisty Papua New Guinea 48-6 in their World Cup rugby league match on Saturday but a hamstring strain for star playmaker Benji Marshall was an unwanted souvenir.

The Kiwis ran in nine tries to one at Skilled Park but played the entire second half without Marshall who sat on the bench with what team management described as a “tight hamstring”.

Whether it is enough to place him in doubt for next Saturday’s final pool match against England will be clearer on Sunday.

Five-eighth Marshall played a big role in the first 40 minutes as the Kiwis built a 22-0 halftime lead, and was involved in three of their four first half tries.

The Kiwis made a shaky start to the second spell without him and the Kumuls stormed back with a try to teenage wing David Moore, but quick tries to hooker Issac Luke and David Fa’alogo ensured the Kumuls’ comeback was shortlived.

Luke, who was omitted from the Kiwis’ 6-30 defeat to the Kangaroos, made an instant impact off the bench with three huge tackles then a brilliant 35m dash from dummy half to score in the 56th minute.

Second-rower Simon Mannering and wing Sam Perrett scored two tries apiece, while Perrett and Manu Vatuvei were both called back for forward passes early in the second half.

The win wasn’t entirely convincing, with the Kiwis still building combinations and committing errors, but it was enough to build on after their opening night horrors.

For a time they threatened their record win against the Kumuls, 64-0 in the teams’ previous meeting in Palmerston North in 1996.

They were rated $1.01 favourites by Australian bookmakers to PNG’s $13, and while the Kumuls made plenty of play in the first half the Kiwis’ defence was too tough.

The Kiwis had won their previous 10 clashes in a row since PNG’s solitary victory, 24-22 in Port Moresby in 1986.

It was a brutal opening period with punishing defence from both sides.

There was some early alarm for the Kiwis in just the second tackle of the match when Perrett stayed down after a hit from giant PNG prop Makali Aizue. Replays showed Aizue’s arm twisting Perrett’s neck but referee Steve Ganson saw nothing and Perrett recovered.

The Kiwis staved off some early PNG raids then started to cause some damage out wide, rattling in three tries in 15 minutes to knock the stuffing out of the Kumuls.

Jerome Ropati opened the scoring when Jeremy Smith offloaded and Marshall stepped past PNG wing George Keppa and gave Ropati an easy run to the line.

Marshall began to run the show and his second man play with Thomas Leuluai set up Mannering’s first try through a yawning gap, then the second–rower had a double soon afterwards when he went one-on-one with the defence.

It was Marshall again who extended the Kiwis’ lead to 20 when he double around and fired a 15m pass to send Perrett over unopposed. There was a hint of obstruction but the try was given after consultation with the video referee.

Gold Coast Titans wing Moore gave PNG some hope early in the second half, narrowing the gap to 16 points, but when benchman Fa’alogo scored it was 30-6 with 20 minutes left.

As the Kumuls tired the Kiwis raced in three tries in the final 12 minutes.