Experience was decisive for the Kangaroos

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 04/05/2014

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The Kangaroos were forced to play a waiting game before finally subduing the Kiwis in Friday night's Anzac test, and the New Zealand Rugby League likely faces the same scenario before Australia's world champion status is under serious threat.

Overwhelming favourites ahead of a supposed mismatch at Sydney's Allianz Stadium, the Kangaroos eventual march to a 16th straight test victory was delayed until a Cooper Cronk try in the 73rd minute produced a flattering 30-18 scoreline.

A defiant performance from a Kiwis team that featured only four players included in Stephen Kearney's original squad six weeks ago, bravely delayed the inevitable before combinations formed at the Melbourne Storm - and then perfected at Queensland - removed the potential for a massive upset.

When an unexpectedly closely fought contest was on the line, the experience of Cronk, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith proved decisive as class and composure finally broke the back of an injury-depleted Kiwis side that had only two training sessions to establish a rapport.

A lineup featuring a new fullback, five-eighth and two hookers could not be expected to match the Australian Immortals-in-waiting, yet the Kiwis are at least developing depth for the future - and the Kangaroos playmaking axis may not be intact at the 2017 World Cup.

Queensland's star quartet are all in their 30s so generational change is inevitable and Australian rugby league could face the same awkward transition the national cricket team confronted following the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.

Daly Cherry-Evans is part of the succession plan, though, in an indication of how reliant the Kangaroos were on their ageing incumbents, Manly's star halfback was granted only seven minutes of game time.

Limiting the involvement of a player expected to finish off a rout was among the moral victories achieved by a Kiwis side with five debutants - the most significant success in their first test since an embarrassing capitulation in last year's World Cup final was regaining credibility.

"These guys did a great job to restore that pride in the jumper," said Kearney, who was understandably proud after being accused of devaluing the fixture by using it to plan for the future.

"If you looked at the team we had jotted down six weeks ago, there were four that played that were on the list. We had a dummy half [Ben Henry] that hadn't played there in his career, a guy [Isaac John] was plucked out of reserve grade. There were a few lads that took a pretty decent step forward."

Despite his NRL career spanning only 67 minutes, back-up hooker Siliva Havili personified the rookies' contribution.

"It wasn't daunting. We were communicating really well. It was positive on the field and we were good in patches," said the promising graduate of the Junior Kiwis programme.

The Kiwis were particularly effective in the opening half as Sam Moa and the Melbourne Storm contingent of Jesse Bromwich, Kevin Proctor and Tohu Harris set the platform for Shaun Johnson to stress the Kangaroos with an astute kicking game. But that effort could not be sustained after the break, leaving Johnson to shoulder the blame for a scoreless second half.

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"The kicking game in the second half really let us down, I thought that was the difference," said the nine-test halfback, the Kiwis' solitary playmaker once Kieran Foran was ruled out with a knee injury.

"The forwards kept rolling forward like they did in the first half. I just wasn't able to finish the sets.

"They showed their class, they put us away in the second half when they had to. We just weren't good enough with the ball when we had our opportunities. That's probably why Thurston got man of the match. He doesn't do too much during a set but he finishes it off pretty well."

- Sunday Star Times

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