Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby League: Transtasman tide goes Kiwis' way

The tide has turned in transtasman league - and it ain't going back. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The tide has turned in transtasman league - and it ain't going back. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Whatever happens tonight in Newcastle - and the Australians are hot favourites - one thing is for sure. The tide has turned in transtasman league - and it ain't going back.

Gone are the days of complete Kangaroos dominance in these fixtures, of winning runs that would outlast prime ministers' terms.

Now, it's hard to imagine an 11-year period without a Kiwis win, as happened between 1972 and 1983, or an eight-match Australian winning sequence, as occurred in the late 2000s.

Or another case like Johnathan Thurston, who has lost only twice to the Kiwis in a 10-year international career.

Look at the evidence. The Kiwis have already beaten Australia four times this decade - as many as they achieved in any 10-year period dating back to the 1960s. Between 1970 and 2010 New Zealand averaged one win over Australia every six games - usually enduring at least three years between each triumph.

Now they've won three times on the bounce, in the space of 18 months. It's also how they are winning. Historically, an emphatic Kiwis victory would occur once in a generation. The 24-3 win in 1971, the 18-0 victory in 1985, the 24-0 triumph in Leeds in 2005.

But two of their last three victories have been crushing. The 30-12 win in Brisbane in 2014 was sealed with 20 minutes to play, while last year's Anzac test was over by halftime, when the Kiwis led 26-6.

How has this happened? First, the numbers of NRL players with New Zealand heritage has never been higher, up to 30 per cent by some estimates. The current period has also coincided with a golden generation of Kiwis forwards - Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Jason Taumalolo, Martin Taupau et al - offering a unique mix of size, power and footwork. After a few years of tinkering, coach Stephen Kearney has got the culture exactly right.

And most importantly, there is genuine belief now every time the Kiwis assemble. No longer are the Kangaroos these mythical men in green and gold; they are just opponents - to be respected but not feared.

"I'm pretty confident in who we have got in our side," said Jason Taumalolo. "Too many people are worried about how many players we have lost but they don't even see that the people [who have come in] are talented, established first-graders. I'm sure we will do the job."

Tonight remains an uphill battle. Another Kiwis win would defy conventional wisdom, with so many key players out and a spine that has never played together before. But whatever the result, the future seems bright.

- NZ Herald

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