Almanac Rugby League – Australia v New Zealand: the winners

In an era when you often get only one match for the price of admission, it was a surprise that rugby league fans in Auckland didn’t take up the option of bagging the bargain of the year by attending yesterday’s feast at Mt Smart Stadium. For their troubles, they had three international games served up for viewing but it seems that only about 10,000 rolled up. They missed a treat in more ways than one.

 

For an aperitif, the Junior Kangaroos v Junior Kiwis match featured twelve tries, a spectacular play by the Kiwi’s Chanel Harris-Tavita and, from all reports, some good, running play. In the end, the Kangaroos ran out comfortable winners by 40-24 on the back of a dominant performance by their halfback, Jake Clifford. (The Cowboys would have watched with big smiles on their faces.) Others to impress included Corey Allan and Zac Lomax who had a day out with the boot kicking six goals from seven attempts. The result marked the fourth consecutive win for the Junior Kangaroos in this trans-Tasman encounter.

 

Then as an entrée, the Jillaroos and the Ferns put on a classic in their clash, as expected. The forwards got stuck into each other from the start and maintained their barrage until the final whistle. The backs did their part by running into gaps and creating chances out wide. In the end, just one kick separated the teams with the Aussies hanging on to win 26-24.

 

The Jillaroos started like a steam train and had two converted tries on the board before the Kiwis could draw breath. Ali Briggenshaw was the key to both scores, setting up Robinson for the first and then dummying and side-stepping her way through for a great individual effort. Baker converted both, one of them from the sideline. The Ferns looked slow and cumbersome by comparison but managed to slow the pace of the game and gradually worked their way back into it. In fact, they dominated the second quarter of the game and scored out wide through Veainu after a long,  inch-perfect cut-out pass from McGregor. Both sides suffered injury setbacks later in the half with Nati and Apps succumbing to knee problems. Aussies 12-4 at the break.

 

The Ferns exploded into the second half with tries to Nuuausala and Veianu in consecutive sets to go ahead 14-12. The Jillaroos looked disorganised and flustered. But a Ferns mistake at the wrong end saw Hancock get a great offload to Gray for the Jillaroos to get back into the lead. NZ lost Mariu to a shoulder injury but were back in it after a clever delayed pass by Fotu-Moala put a rampaging Feterika into a gap to score in the corner: 18-18. There were always going to be more points in this one with a quarter of the game to go. The Jillaroo’s Kelly, who had threatened throughout the game, caught the retreating defence napping from a quick play-the-ball and ran 7o metres to score near the posts. Somehow, Baker missed the conversion! 22-18 to Australia. The New Zealanders fought back through substitute Kani to go out to 24-22 with less than 10 minutes on the clock. But the Jillaroos were not to be denied and Kelly was in again after a pinpoint series of passes to regain the lead 26-24, a margin they held on to until the final whistle.

 

The Australians were best served by Ballinger (awarded player of the match), Kelly, Taufa-Kautai, Baker, Apps (until injured), Briggenshaw (early on and late in the game) and Breayley while Robinson and Southwell acquitted themselves well on debut. For NZ, Honey Hireme was my pick for best afield, a damaging, powerful runner who caused headaches continually. Nichols was in everything while other standouts for the Ferns were McGregor, Smalley, Fotu-Moala and Nuuausala.

 

This was a high standard, all action, gripping encounter from go to whoa. Played over 80 minutes compared to the NRLW 60 minute clashes, the extra time exposed the only possible limitation of the game. The last 10 minutes of each half were littered with injuries, probably a factor of exhaustion. You might argue that the international game needs to be a test in all senses of the word, and fair enough. But if it comes at the cost of significant injuries, then perhaps it needs a rethink. In the end, women’s rugby league was the big winner and now, with the experience of the past 6 weeks under their belts, we can look forward to a ripper of an NRLW series in 2019. The ladies have landed! For me, their matches have been up there with some of the best of the year!

 

Then on to the main course. In my preview, I mentioned that, over the years, the Kiwis have been known to ignore their underdog status and put one over the Kangaroos. I also speculated that, maybe, this just might be one of those occasions. And so it proved as the home team out-muscled, out-enthused and out-played the Australians before clinching a 26-24 win. In fact, the final scoreline flattered the Kangaroos after they ran in two late tries to close the margin.

 

The Kangaroos started well and had a converted Holmes try on the board within the first few minutes. But that was just about it for the remainder of the first half. Driven by a dominant forward performance, supported by a switched on Johnson and aided by poor Australian handling and ill-discipline, the Kiwis controlled well over 65% of possession and had two tries disallowed to lead 8-6 in the shadows on the break. A rare Australian breakout on the last play of the half saw Gagai go over for the Australians to take a flattering and undeserved 12-8 lead into halftime. The score flew in the face of every first half statistic.

 

But there was no denying the Kiwis after the break. After an even ten minutes or so, they got on a roll, dominated territory, controlled possession and put on tries to Marsters, Rapana and Smith to go out to a 26-12 lead. Johnson, clearly the player of the match and playing behind a charging pack, had time and space to call the shots, while Manu took the chocolates over his club teammate Mitchell. It was a case of a disciplined, effervescent and near flawless team against a group of players in gold and green who never really jelled or got out of their own half. Poor handling continued to dog the Australians which didn’t allow them to put any significant pressure on the New Zealanders. The two late tries came against the run of play and should not disguise the inept Kangaroo effort.

 

As mentioned, Johnson was on song, his forwards battered their opponents, Watene-Zelezniak led with vigour and the young backline played with intensity and purpose. The Kiwis can look forward to some good years ahead on the basis of this combination and performance. They just need Proctor to get those silly penalties out of his game. Australia’s better players were hard to find. Cordner and Kaufusi were energetic and Woods tried hard but the forwards were well contained. Cherry-Evans, playing behind a beaten pack, did as well as anyone while Tom Trbojevic and Mitchell had their moments, although these two also made their share of errors. They’ll be better for the experience. Mitchell showed glimpses of the force he may well come to be but still has unforced mistakes to remove from his game.

 

The result will be good for the game in that the Australians will need to face up to their limitations, especially up forward. Perhaps we might see Campbell-Gillard next week. Yes, they were unlucky to lose Keary to injury after 15 minutes but I don’t think he would have been able to make up the gap given the lack of space or time available to the Australian halves. Their next test comes against Tonga next weekend when they can expect no respite as they will be confronted by yet another monster pack. Big Mal has it all in front of him to get his charges up in just seven days.

 

Dessert will be served next weekend!

 

 

Essentially, Ian Hauser is a meat and three veg type but is not unappreciative of other cuisines. When it comes to his editing work, he’s solid on the conventions but also open to the range of voices different writers bring to their work. You can check out his website here.

 

About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I appreciate those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

Comments

  1. The junior match provided the highlight. Check this out: https://wwos.nine.com.au/nrl/junior-kiwis-vs-junior-kangaroos-chanel-harristavita-scorpion-kick-try/9d820042-19df-4cac-9d40-5a9ce9c59799

    In the men’s match, the Kiwis were too organised and strong. They seemed to make a lot of ground up the centre with quick play the balls esp early in the tackle count.

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