League: Kiwis go down fighting

By Michael Brown

Greg Bird of Australia is tackled by Simon Mannering and Shaun Johnson during the ANZAC Test match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images.
Greg Bird of Australia is tackled by Simon Mannering and Shaun Johnson during the ANZAC Test match between the Australian Kangaroos and the New Zealand Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images.

The Anzac test followed a familiar script in Sydney tonight but it wasn't the narrative most expected in the Kiwis' 30-18 loss to the Kangaroos.

Stephen Kearney's side, who were expected to be on the end of a hiding, gave Australia a scare before the world champions gained the ascendancy.

The Kiwis led 18-12 at halftime and sniffed a huge upset but they were held scoreless in the second half. They were excellent in the first half but couldn't sustain enough pressure in the second as they could see Australia come at them.

"A touch of class might have got us over the line but the effort and energy that they performed with gave them a great opportunity," coach Stephen Kearney said.

"The effort and spirit and energy the lads played with, I couldn't complain about that. If you take us back to the back end of the tournament last year, in terms of New Zealand rugby league and our jumper, things didn't end so well there.

It was important that our next outing to get some respect and some pride back into our jumper and I thought the lads did that."

There was respect in defeat, but it was still defeat, and Australia continued their dominance of the Anzac test and registered their 16th consecutive win to equal the record set by the Invincibles side of 1979-83.

The relative difference between both sides is stark, as Australia enjoy a golden period with an experienced side and the Kiwis had five debutants.

It led many to suggest the test was a waste of time, with the Kiwis mismatched. It didn't feel like that for 70 minutes.

The forward were excellent, led by Sam Moa and Jesse Bromwich, and they played with passion and energy - two things badly missing in last year's World Cup final.

"It's disappointing the scoreline but it's a building process,'' said Martin Taupau who was making his debut. "Everyone wrote us off from the get-go but we believed in each other and and believed that we could compete. There were a few things we didn't capitalise on but we can build on this.''

It was imperative they started well and they enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges. It settled the nerves and improved belief.

They also played accurate football, completing 15 of their 16 sets in the first half and making only two errors. They found joy with a short passing game, often turning the ball back inside, and scored tries to Bromwich, Tohu Harris, who started at five-eighth, and Moa.

Australia weren't exactly rattled - they're way too experienced and been in tight squeezes before - but it certainly wasn't following the script. After all, the Kangaroos hadn't trailed at halftime since the 2005 Tri Nations final, 40 tests ago.

"At halftime we got a bit of a serve from our senior players and coach,'' centre Greg Inglis said. "We almost got done by an enthusiastic, young side."

They had been well short of the slick side who dismantled the Kiwis 34-2 at Old Trafford, even though it was an almost identical 17. Much of that had to do with the Kiwis, with their aggressive defence, and Kearney's side played the game at the right end of the field.

It allowed Shaun Johnson to play a leading hand, as he needed to as New Zealand's most experienced international in the spine, and he produced a clever kicking game but when his side needed him the most, with the match on the line, his kicking game deserted him.

Australia slowly worked themselves into the game as the clock wore down and the Kiwis were forced to produce some scrambling defence. They repelled one set when Australia threw three set-pieces at them but the line couldn't hold and when Greg Inglis scored to give Australia a 24-18 lead with 19 minutes remaining it seemed normal service had resumed.

All of the sudden the Kangaroos started to make easier metres. The Kiwis had one final shot with about 10 minutes remaining but couldn't breach Australia's line and when Cooper Cronk scored in the 73rd minute the contest was settled.

It might have been closer if Issac Luke and Kieran Foran had been playing and the Kiwis can also look forward to welcoming back the likes of Thomas Leuluai, Elijah Taylor, Jason Taumalolo, Ben Matulino and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, if he can convince Kearney of his worth.

But their job of getting back in the side was made a little bit tougher tonight.

Australia 30 (Brett Morris 2, Greg Bird, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 5 gls) New Zealand 18 (Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Sam Moa tries; Shaun Johnson 3 gls). HT: 12-18.

- APNZ

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