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A week on from their shock loss to Tonga in Hamilton the Kiwis went from bad to worse to suffer their second-straight loss to a second-tier nation in their first test match against Fiji in front of a deflated Westpac Stadium crowd.
A penalty to Fiji hooker Apisai Koroisau gave the visitors a 2-0 halftime lead, with Kiwis halfback Shaun Johnson levelling five minutes after the resumption before centre Tane Milne's boot gave his side the winning lead 18 minutes from fulltime.
The result leaves the Kiwis to pick up the pieces from a campaign that fell to pieces after two promising but ultimately deceiving first-up pool wins over strugglers Samoa and Scotland, while Fiji advance to a semi-final against Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium next Friday.
Questions hang over coach David Kidwell's future with the result the Kiwis seventh defeat in 10 starts since he was appointed last September, and the New Zealand Rugby League set to review his position once his current contract ends in January.
Kiwis halves Johnson and recalled five-eighth Te Maire Martin looked uncertain on attack and kicked poorly behind a forward pack that struggled to gain ground, while fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck made a couple of uncharacteristic and costly errors.
Fiji enjoyed a strong start with hard running and a willingness to offload troubling the Kiwis defence with errors and penalties allowing the visitors to dominate territory and possession.
The Kiwis looked vulnerable early on with Fijian back-rower Brayden Wiliame losing the ball over the try line before Koroisau kicked a penalty from in front for the lead after 13 minutes.
New Zealand were unable to get any momentum with the ball and had racked up 106 tackles in the first quarter alone, but scrambling defence allowed them to hang on with Fijian wing Marcelo Montoya pushed into touch close to the line.
The Kiwis suffered a blow with back-rower Joseph Tapine succumbing to a knee injury in the 23rd minute, while Fiji continued to threaten with centre Akuila Uate tackled close to the line and captain Kevin Naiqama called back for a forward pass.
The Kiwis continued to hurt themselves with more errors and poor option-taking stifling their attack in the second-half, although they clung on while wing Jordan Rapana spent 10 minutes in the sinbin for a professional foul.
Fiji could not find a way through the Kiwis defence but Milne edged them ahead on the scoreboard and desperate defence prevented New Zealand from snatching the result at the death.