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

League: Kangaroos hold on for narrow win over Kiwis

Well, what might have been.

On a freezing night in the midlands, where the mercury hovered around zero, the Kiwis went down 14-8 to the Kangaroos.

After being outplayed for most of the match, the Kiwis came alive in the last 10 minutes in a frenetic finish.

They came close to forcing what would have been an unlikely draw, with Shaun Johnson held up over the line in the 80th minute.

Overall, it wasn't a great performance from the Kiwis - but it was gritty - and they deserve credit for their late comeback.

The result means that the Kangaroos have booked their place in the Four Nations final, while the Kiwis fate will be decided next weekend.

Australia got to a 10-0 lead by the 15th minute and was never really looked threatened after that, until New Zealand's late, late show.

The Kiwis had some decent spells inside the Australia 22, but after working so hard to get there, seemed to be bereft of ideas of what to do next.

While much has been made of the Kiwis' giant forward pack, the Australians don't lack anything in size, and are much the bigger team across the park. They made the most of that advantage in the first half, with Blake Ferguson, Justin O'Neill and Greg Inglis all making inroads through the Kiwis defensive line.

And, as much as it will dent New Zealand pride, the Kangaroos found it much easier to roll up the middle of the park for much of the match. That is supposed to be the Kiwis domain, but in the first half the Kangaroos produced quicker play the balls as New Zealand back pedaled.

After an even start to the match, Australia broke the game open with two tries in the space of four minutes.

The first try came after a series of penalties, with Blake Ferguson crossing out wide after a series of decoy runs in the 10th minute. The second was even better, with a slashing Michael Morgan run wrong footing half the New Zealand defence, before Johnathan Thurston finished it off. Morgan, who was a surprise replacement for Cooper Cronk, quickly justified coach Mal Meninga's faith.

He was a constant menace in the first half, with the Kiwis struggling to handle his runs from deep.

The Kiwis defended well - the damage could have been much worse but for some outstanding defence - but the much of the first half resembled what we saw in Perth.

Australia had time and space on attack - and looked constantly dangerous, whereas the Kiwis were hassled and harried by a fast moving Kangaroos defensive line.

New Zealand had their moments, but weren't good enough to take them. Greg Inglis did well to run down Jordan Rapana after a 60m intercept, but on the next play, with the Kangaroos' defensive line scattered, Johnson put down a wild Shaun Kenny-Dowall pass from dummy half.

Things needed to improve in the second half, and they did, with Solomone Kata driving over from dummy half for his first Kiwis try. It was a great effort from the Warriors centre, and made amends for a nervy first half.

Australia maintained their advantage with two Thurston penalties - both conceded for holding down in the shadow of the posts.

Johnson engineered a late try for Rapana with a brilliant chip and chase, but it was too little, too late as the Kangaroos hung on.

Australia 14 (B Ferguson, J Thurston tries Thurston 3 goals)

New Zealand 8 (S Kata, J Rapana tries)

Halftime: 10-0

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