The Kangaroos proved to be too much for the Kiwis in Melbourne, running away with a six-tries-to-three win. Michael Burgess reports.
The Kangaroos’ dominance goes on - though the Kiwis have some room for optimism.
Australia prevailed 36-18 on Saturday night in Melbourne, extending their run to eight victories in the last nine trans-Tasman encounters, dating back to 2015.
The scoreline didn’t really reflect the contest, as Australia scored two tries in the last three minutes, but it was a timely lesson for Michael Maguire’s team.
To beat the Kangaroos, you need to be at your absolute best and also hope for the rub of the green.
Instead, the Kiwis lacked polish at key moments, while also being on the end of some unfortunate calls.
The home side were defensively superb and their forwards stood up to the much-vaunted Kiwis pack.
It meant New Zealand struggled for territory for much of the match, while the Australian line speed resulted in constant pressure for the Kiwis playmakers.
Australian hooker Harry Grant again had a pivotal impact, changing the game off the bench, though the Kiwis will rue some moments of inattention that contributed to at least two of the Kangaroos’ tries.
But the Kiwis have plenty to build on ahead of the Pacific Championship final in Hamilton next Saturday. Many of the squad have limited experience of facing the green and golds and will be much better for the run.
They will need to improve though, given Australia will be reinforced by some key forwards.
The Kangaroos opened the scoring in the eighth minute, with Valentine Holmes first to a well-judged James Tedesco grubber. It came after a couple of New Zealand errors, including the opening kickoff over the dead ball line. The Kiwis found a response, after some stirring charges from James Fisher-Harris and Joseph Tapine, with Briton Nikora anticipating a precise Jahrome Hughes grubber in the 17th minute.
It was a boost and Cameron Murray was fortunate to avoid the sin bin, after a foot trip on Hughes.
But the Kiwis conceded again from a kick, with Lindsay Collins lumbering over after Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow profited from a towering Ben Hunt bomb.
There were constant momentum changes; Jamayne Isaako was inches away, then Collins got his second after Grant had created space around the ruck.
The Kiwis did well to hang on through some tough defensive sets, before a soaring Ronaldo Mulitalo reduced the deficit right on halftime, climbing highest to take a Hughes bomb. New Zealand were also on the wrong side of some refereeing interpretations, with offsides and six again decisions, which allowed the Australians to build more pressure.
The Kangaroos extended their lead in the 50th minute after Tabuai-Fidow stood up Manu before sending Dylan Edwards across. It didn’t help that the Kiwis centre slipped, though it was coming as Australian lifted through the gears.
Australia switched to four playmakers for the final quarter - with Nicho Hynes introduced - to stretch the visitors.
The sense that it wasn’t the Kiwis’ night was accentuated just after the hour, with a nasty head clash flooring both Fisher-Harris and Tapine. A rare penalty in possession gifted Holmes a further two points, to extend the Australian lead. Kiwis interchange hooker Fa’amanu Brown dived over in the 69th minute to offer some hope, before late tries to Ben Hunt and Cameron Murray sealed the result
Kangaroos 36 (Lindsay Collins 2, Valentine Holmes, Dylan Edwards, Ben Hunt, Cameron Murray tries; Holmes 5 cons, pen)
Kiwis 18 (Briton Nikora, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Fa’amanu Brown tries; Jamayne Isaako 3 cons)
The Kiwis outclassed Toa Samoa at Eden Park so like the Kiwi Ferns have a big chance against their Aussie counterparts. International rugby league simply doesn’t get better than the Anzac rivalry, strap yourselves in.