New Zealand 6
A huge task faces the Kiwis to wrench the rugby league World Cup from Australian hands after the Kangaroos scored a dominant 30-6 victory in their tournament opener last night.
The gulf in class was clear as the hosts, before an opening night Sydney Football Stadium crowd of 34,157, raced in five tries to one to justify their short-priced favourites tag.
After some midweek talk of a Kiwis revival under coaching team Stephen Kearney and Wayne Bennett, they were chasing green and gold jerseys for much of the night as penalties and a rash of errors hurt them. Only some desperate Kiwis defence out wide stopped a score blowout.
And the news could get worse for the Kiwis with centre Steve Matai placed on report by referee Ashley Klein for a high swinging arm which floored Kangaroos forward Paul Gallen in the 13th minute.
Kangaroos coach Ricky Stuart only assembled his side last weekend and introduced four test debutants tonight, and despite some handling errors they offered plenty on attack.
They also endured some pre-match drama, with star halfback Johnathan Thurston taking the field despite being told yesterday of the death of his uncle Richard Saunders, 38, who was reportedly the target of a bashing in Brisbane which is being investigated by police.
Thurston and captain Darren Lockyer were constant menaces for the Kiwis' defence, while Thurston kicked four goals from five attempts.
Centre Israel Folau bagged a double including a try out wide on the final hooter.
In contrast the Kiwis' halves Thomas Leuluai and Benji Marshall were under constant pressure and there was little spark on attack.
The Kiwis fired up with a fearsome haka led by Adam Blair and Marshall but it was shades of the Centenary test in May as little went right in the first half. Australia should have led by more than 14-6 at the break.
The Kiwis' kicking game was poor and they were intent on low-risk probes from dummy half while the Kangaroos went wide to their speedy backline from the start. Veteran Kangaroos props Steve Price and Petero Civoniceva were also big presences after being labelled "too old and slow" by former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe.
Consecutive penalties against Jerome Ropati for stripping the ball, and Matai's high tackle, led to Greg Inglis' opening try.
Inglis had a standing start from a Lockyer cut-out pass, but stepped inside Matai's tackle attempt to dot down.
Some big defence from Ropati and Manu Vatuvei to force the ball from a try-bound Folau's grasp in the 25th minute led to their first try against the run of play.
They raced onto attack and Marshall in a rare first half touch drifted across and found a storming Sika Manu on the cutback who raced 15m through debutant Josh Perry's tackle to score under the posts to make it 8-6.
But the Kangaroos struck back five minutes later to redress the balance when debut wing Joel Monaghan crash ed over out wide.
The Kiwis needed to start the second half with a rush but it was the Kangaroos who seized command in the 48th minute when dangerman Folau bulldozed through two tackles out wide after the Kiwis threw the ball away.
Fullback Billy Slater, who was electric all night, nailed down the result after a Thurston break with a try converted by Thurston to make it 24-6 with 20 minutes left.
The Kiwis had a flurry of late attacks but Ropati was denied a late try by Slater's boot which forced the ball free.
Kangaroos 30 (Israel Folau 2, Greg Inglis, Joel Monaghan, Billy Slater tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals, Cameron Smith goal)
Kiwis 6 (Sika Manu try; Steve Matai goal).