Days like this remind you why test rugby league is still magic.
It’s why, despite all the hype about State of Origin, nothing beats a Kiwis win over the Kangaroos.
They don’t come along very often and are almost always unexpected.
That was the case on Saturday, as the Kiwis stunned the world champions in Hamilton, with a 30-0 win.
That’s not a misprint.
It was the biggest margin recorded against the Kangaroos and the most points Australia had conceded in a test since 1952.
Old veterans watching on – from Graeme West to Mark Graham to Dean Bell – would have been crying into their beers.
Five unanswered tries – against the cream of Australian rugby league.
It was a staggering performance, something almost no one saw coming. The Kiwis were $4.20 outsiders at the TAB, and were significantly outplayed seven days ago in Melbourne.
It also continues a run of wins in New Zealand, after triumphs in Wellington (2014) and Auckland (2018).
The home side had heroes across the park, from captain James Fisher-Harris to dynamic wing Ronaldo Mulitalo. This was their best performance in years, as they outplayed, outmuscled and outthought the Kangaroos.
The win was built on old-fashioned values; they physically rattled the Australians with some bone-shaking defence, tackled everything that moved and then attacked with precision and skill.
And, as hard as it is to believe, the scoreline could have been higher, as New Zealand had other chances they couldn’t finish. They led 12-0 at halftime, then went on with the job, never really giving the Kangaroos a sniff.
It means the Kiwis claim the first edition of the Pacific Championships and, more importantly, is a massive shot in the arm for the local game, after the bitter disappointment of last year’s World Cup exit.
The Kiwis started with spark and verve. Fisher-Harris sent Reuben Cotter reeling in the very first tackle, while Isaiah Papali’I gave Payne Haas an early welcome. And unlike last week, they got some decent territory and possession from the outset.
Joseph Tapine was threatening, while Joseph Manu put Jahrome Hughes in a hole. The first try came after a Mulitalo break from his own 20. Moments later the Kiwis went wide, with a perfect looping pass from Dylan Brown sending Mulitalo across in the corner.
That lifted the Kiwis – and the modest but boisterous crowd of 13,269.
Suddenly the second-phase play started to flow, as they chanced their arm with offloads. Mulitalo was playing like a man possessed. He smashed opposite number Valentine Holmes – who was showboating as he bore down on the corner – with one of the hits of the season.
Soon afterwards he was leaping like an AFL player to take a short drop off, to relieve pressure. That proved crucial.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s clean break from a scrum went unrewarded, but the Kiwis were over soon afterwards, with a snappy right edge move to set up Jamayne Isaako. The Christchurch-born player then nailed his second sideline conversion.
Things got feisty before the break, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona the chief instigator. The Kiwis maintained their dominance after the interval as Hughes slashed through, while Asofa-Solomona scattered defenders from a back fence run.
Around that time a Kiwis chant started, with a genuine buzz in the air. That feeling intensified with the third try, a beautiful move finished by Isaako, though the bunker was generous as the ball appeared to graze the sideline.
Australia were feeling the pressure, with uncharacteristic errors, forward passes and knock ons. Even when they did get chances, the Kiwis scrambled superbly.
They were getting confidence from their defence before scoring the try of the match, with a sharp left-edge move – highlighted by a brilliant Nicoll-Klokstad tip on – before Matt Timoko finished under the posts in the 60th minute.
An Isaako penalty extended the margin, before Griffin Neame topped off an unforgettable try with his solo try under the posts, sending the crowd on the hill into a frenzy.
Kiwis 30 (Ronaldo Mulitalo, Jamayne Isaako 2, Matt Timoko, Griffin Neame tries, Jamayne Isaako 4 cons, pen)