Kiwis stun Kangaroos in Brisbane
New Zealand's recent dominance over Australia has continued after a blistering first-half performance and some impregnable defence laid the platform for a 26-12 victory in Sunday's rescheduled Anzac Test at Suncorp Stadium.
The 14-point victory was the Kiwis' third-straight win over the Kangaroos – the first time Australia has lost three in a row against New Zealand since the Clive Churchill-led side of 1953.
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Australia had won the previous eight clashes before New Zealand began their current streak in last year's Four Nations. Sunday's result was also the first win the Kiwis have had in a mid-season Test since 1998.
Kiwi halfback and reigning Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson wiped away his indifferent club form for the Warriors with a dominate display – scoring one try and making three tackle breaks, one line break, one try assist and kicking five goals in front of a vocal crowd of 32,681.
Manu Vatuvei's two tries saw him awarded the Charles Savory medal for Man of the Match.
However, it was the overall team performance which was most pleasing aspect of New Zealand's victory with the visitors being held scoreless in the second half, with just 41 percent of possession and having to make an extra 33 tackles than the 'Roos.
Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney spoke with pride after the game in regards to the defensive aspect of New Zealand's performance.
"It was very satisfying and I thought the lads prepared themselves well all week… Obviously Friday night threw a spanner in the works but they adjusted really well and got up for a wonderful performance," Kearney said.
"I thought the defensive effort throughout the whole game was probably the foundation for the victory. We were getting numbers in the picture consistently and they had a number of shots on our try line and there was always more black jerseys there than green and gold jumpers.
"They had a fair bit of possession at the start of the second half and the guys kept turning them away, so for me our defence really set the tone for the victory."
For the Kangaroos, a lack of attacking fluency and leaking 26 points in the opening half was the catalyst for Australia's third loss in a row against the Kiwis according to coach Tim Sheens.
"We made every mistake we could possibly make in the first half," Sheens said.
"The second half we tried harder and got a bit more ball but just [gave them] too much of a lead.
"We've got no excuses – 26 points against us in the first half is not good enough."
Trailing 26-6 at the break and severely off the pace in the first half, the Kangaroos began the second stanza in positive fashion and almost scored out wide through Josh Dugan but the Test debutant couldn’t ground Johnathan Thurston's clever behind-the-line grubber kick before stepping on the touch in-goal line.
Impenetrable Kiwi defence thwarted Australia again in the 53rd minute when Cooper Cronk was held up over the line by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but a lazy penalty conceded by the visitors soon had the 'Roos back on the attack.
Australia had more of the ball during the second half and that possession soon turned into points when debutant Will Chambers crossed out wide with Thurston's conversion narrowing the deficit to 14 points with 21 minutes to go.
Errors started creeping into the contest inside the final 15 minutes as the Kiwis began to tire and Australia threw caution to the wind.
A knee injury to Dugan halted proceedings for several minutes, allowing the Kiwis a breather as the game clock ticked past 70 minutes.
Dugan left the field with Luke Lewis winding back the clock to play wing and the Sharks utility crossed out wide moments later only for Thurston's final pass to be ruled forward by referee Gerard Sutton.
The Kangaroos kept asking questions of the Kiwi defence, but as was the tale for the majority of the match, poor ball control was Australia's downfall.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall had a second try denied with 20 seconds remaining as the Kiwis held on for a well-deserved 26-12 victory.
After Friday's rain event in Brisbane left the Suncorp Stadium surface drenched, the decision to reschedule the Trans-Tasman clash to Sunday afternoon was vindicated at kick-off when both teams entered the arena in dry, but overcast conditions.
The Kiwis opened the scoring in the seventh minute courtesy of a Johnson penalty goal after back-to-back penalties put the halfback within kicking range.
Australia lacked fluency in the opening 10 minutes but despite an early lack of polish on their set plays, they scored the opening try in the 12th minute when Sam Thaiday steamrolled his way over Kieran Foran to score only his second Test try and hand the Kangaroos a 6-2 lead.
A bizarre 19th-minute charge down attempt by Thurston handed the Kiwis a scrum 30 metres out from the try line and they capitalised from the scrum base with the ball shifting out to Vatuvei, who brushed off Chambers to sneak over in the corner to lock the score up at 6-all.
Vatuvei scored his second try after 28 minutes when Peta Hiku – who appeared to have picked up a game-ending leg injury only minutes earlier – batted the ball back for 'The Beast' to score out wide with Johnson adding the extras for a 12-6 lead.
New Zealand bagged another try three minutes later when Johnson took the line on from close range and beat Thurston with a right-foot step to score adjacent to the posts.
Johnson added a further two points in the 39th minute when Martin Taupau drew a penalty within range and the New Zealand playmaker slotted the extras to hand the fired-up Kiwis a 20-6 lead.
On the stroke of half-time the Kiwis threw the ball out to the right with veteran winger Jason Nightingale booting a centring kick towards the path of the onrushing Kenny-Dowall.
Kangaroos fullback Greg Inglis appeared the have the Steeden covered but took an air-swing while attempting to bat the ball dead and Kenny-Dowall swooped on the crumbs to score the Kiwis' fourth try of the afternoon.
Johnson's conversion stretched New Zealand's lead out to 26-6, leaving the Kangaroos reeling at the break.
New Zealand 26 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Shaun Johnson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall tries; Shaun Johnson 5 goals) def. Australia 12 (Sam Thaiday, Will Chambers tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 goals) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Crowd: 32,681. Half-time: New Zealand 26-6. Referee: Gerard Sutton. On report: Greg Bird (Australia).
The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club.