A game that promised so much, delivered for just one side, as Australia had the New Zealand team beaten before half time. Andrew Riley tells the tale of the game…
On a beautiful autumnal Sunday afternoon, the two best international rugby league teams took to the hallowed Anfield turf to contest the final of the 4 Nations tournament.
With Australia looking to reclaim the No.1 spot back from the Kiwis, the pressure seemed to get to the Kiwis, as seven errors in the first half really cost them the game.
It took just three minutes for the Green and Gold’s to start the scoreboard ticking over, as Blake Ferguson finished of a lovely flowing move to score in the corner. The conversion by Johnathon Thurston made it 6-0 and it already looked like a long day at the office for Kiwi coach, David Kidwell.
Australia didn’t have it all their own way though. as the Kiwis pressed for a score though, and after some great defence, the Aussies broke away and after more silky smooth handling, Josh Duggan scored, although Thurston missed with the conversion, the 10-0 scoreline after 15 minutes was an accurate reflection of the way the game had been played so far.
The next 10 minutes though would see Australia place a stranglehold on the game, first with a Thurston penalty making it 12-0 and then after another Kiwi error, Trent Merrin strolled past the Kiwi defence to score, Thurston wasn’t going to miss this one, and suddenly it was 18-0.
Bang on the half hour mark, a penalty right in front of the posts allowed Thurston to make it 20-0 and Kiwi heads looked like they were beginning to drop.
Just two minutes later, and all hope for the Kiwi fans was extinguished as Duggan went in for his second of the game, after a beautifully weighted grubber kick from Thurston allowed him to pounce. It took the intervention of the video referee to award the try, but it was given.
The usually reliable Thurston was having an off day, as he managed to hit the upright, leaving the score 24-0.
On the 34th minute, the Kangaroos looked to be in again, this time though the video referee ruled no try and the 40,000 Anfield crowd went very quiet and flat.
Nothing seemed to be working for the Kiwis.
Even a kick to the ingoal area was smuggled back into field of play just before half time.
After the break, it looked like business as usual when Darius Boyd went over to make it 28-0 as Thurston again missed the chance to add the extras.
By this point, the Australian team could have been playing the game in dinner suits, such was their skill and defence.
The Kiwis didn’t look like they would get close to them if the game was played for a week.
However, after 55 minutes, there was a glimmer of hope as Jordan Kahu scored and then missed the conversion to leave it at 28-4
Then, just nine minutes later, Kahu was in again, and again was unable to convert and with 20 minutes left of the game, it was 28-8, and a repeat of the 2013 World Cup final was on the cards.
The Aussies hadn’t finished yet though, as with seven minutes left, Boyd Cordner scored, and with Thurston accurate, the scoreline read 34-8 and that was how it remained.
The player of the tournament, as voted for by the media, was Australian Cooper Cronk, and the man of the match was Darius Boyd.
Post match, Kiwi coach Kidwell admitted that the penalties in the first half had effectively lost them the game.
“I don’t think there was anything wrong with our preparation. They just got out into a lead that was uncatchable really.” he told the press after the game.
“We needed to try and get back into the game in the second half, and for a period we did.”
The road to the final for New Zealand had seen them win only one game, against hosts England, draw with Scotland and get beaten by Australia twice. Asked where he felt the tour had gone wrong, he defended his squad and said he was happy with how the tour had gone.
“The tour internally was very strong. Our performance tonight magnifies things. We’ve some disappointed people, and we need to make certain we don’t perform like that in the next test.”
Australian coach Mal Meninga was rightly full of praise for the way his team played.
“It feels pretty good. Very happy for the players, the effort they’ve put in, not only tonight but throughout the whole tournament has been exceptional.” he said.
When asked about how you coach players like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Darius Boyd, he simply explained that you don’t, you allow them to play their natural game and coerce them into playing the right type of football.
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith was not that surprised with the way the game played out, telling the press:
“They made errors, and that was down to the pressure we built in the half. Our focus all tournament was to start well, and impose ourselves on the opposition.”
“We made one error in the first half, and our kicking game was fantastic.”