League: Kiwis conjure up World Cup miracle

By Dylan Cleaver

New Zealand 34
Australia 20

All day locals waited for the big one to hit. The perfect storm never arrived but the Kiwis did, shaking Suncorp Stadium and the rugby league world to its foundations.

The Kiwis are the world champions.

That is not a misprint. Say it again:

THE KIWIS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS. THE KIWIS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS. THE KIWIS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS!

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Hail Stephen Kearney, hail Wayne Bennett, hail Nathan Cayless. And if you're Australian, hail a cab because you're going home with nothing.

On this side of the ditch, they will be talking about the penalty try awarded to the Kiwis, which took them to 28-20 with time leaking, but it was a dead-set spot-on decision, one of a few that rightfully went the Kiwis' way.

Only then did the dream of winning the World Cup start to materialise fully, and for that, Australians will be spewing into their XXXX forever.

With three-quarters of the World Cup final gone, New Zealand were leading 18-16 but fans awaited a Kangaroo onslaught. It never came.

The Australian players were getting frazzled, the large majority of the 50,559 crowd were getting restless and the Kiwis were getting pumped.

Then Billy Slater, the almost-perfect fullback, threw a ludicrous inside heave to Benji Marshall that allowed the standoff to stroll over unopposed. It was a mistake you might see the high-risk Slater make once a season. For it to come in a World Cup final demonstrated the pressure New Zealand were exerting on their opponents.

But for a long time, it appeared that New Zealand would be the team that succumbed to pressure.

If the game was poised at three-quarter time, it was anything but after the first quarter - a slaughter of flightless birds looked on the cards.

The Kiwis had started promisingly, with an unlucky bounce denying Marshall a try from a Nathan Fien grubber. But then it all went pear-shaped.

Slater carved the defence apart because Darren Lockyer picked up the dregs. Then Slater pushed a perfect pass to David Williams and the bearded winger streaked unopposed down the touchline to make it 10-0.

If Lockyer, usually the safest pair of hands, had grounded a regulation Cameron Smith grubber in the 20th minute, it would have been 16-0 and nobody would have seen a way home for the Kiwis. But he muffed it.

Four minutes later, Jeremy Smith bullocked over and when Jerome Ropati scored after Anthony Laffranchi was ruled to have stripped Marshall, the horror start had been expunged.

Tries followed to Lance Hohaia - excellent after a shaky start - and Lockyer again, before Slater's brainfade.

And then that penalty try. A Fien kick bounced awkwardly and Joel Monaghan could only parry it back into his in-goal. Hohaia was ready to catch it and ground it when Monaghan grabbed him. Try.

When the superb Adam Blair benefitted from another contentious video ref decision, it was game, set, match.

The Kiwi heroes were too many to mention individually. Let's just fall back on the cliche that it was one-in, all-in. But who would have thought it?

Australia was looking for its 10th World Cup victory in 13 attempts, New Zealand were going for their first. The odds probably couldn't have been weighed greater against a finalist. Certainly, you thought the Kiwis would have had a better shot on Eden Park in 1988, or 12 years later at Old Trafford.

If fans are looking for more comfort, then rejoice in the fact the haka was sensational, even if the Kangaroos managed to almost trump the Kiwis.

Followers of another code with a similar shaped ball would recognise it as the most incendiary response to the Maori challenge since Irish captain Willie Anderson got his troops among a Buck Shelford-led haka in 1989.

That game didn't end so well for Anderson but whereas the Irish play as if they are one step away from calamity, Australia always play as if triumph is just around the corner.

It didn't end so well for Australia either. The Kiwis are world champions.

It sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Australia 20 (D. Lockyer 2, D. Williams, G. Inglis tries; J. Thurston 2 gls) New Zealand 34 (J. Smith, J. Ropati, L. Hohaia, B. Marshall, A. Blair tries; penalty try; I. Luke 3 gls, Marshall gl). Ht: 16-12.

- Herald on Sunday

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