It was the final challenge. Left in a neglected corner of the fixture list, the Anzac Test may pale in comparison to the Four Nations and World Cup.
But for the Kiwis, winning the midyear test - a feat they have never achieved on Australian soil, and not managed at all since 1998 - was the last sign that they could really match the Kangaroos.
In the past five years, they had slashed the margin of defeat from 38 points to four, and again last night they kept it tight, and entertaining before a near-capacity Gold Coast crowd before finally fading under the weight of their own errors.
Late tries from Jamal Idris and Billy Slater obscured the 33 enthralling minutes where the game had been uneasily balanced with Australia just 10-6 ahead. A try with ten seconds left to Lance Hohaia gave the final scoreline, 20-10, a more balanced look.
In the game's very first collision, Kiwis prop Sam Rapira sustained a broken thumb, and he was grimacing on the touchline as his side conceded the first try. He wasn't the only first half casualty, with Kieran Foran struggling at one stage and Australia's Inglis departing after the first quarter with a hip problem.
A straightforward bomb from Lockyer caused problems for an exposed Lance Hohaia, who misjudged his leap and spilled the ball into the path of Billy Slater, who scored with 100 seconds on the clock.
New Zealand were under siege after that, often a situation of their own making, and it was one such error that allowed Australia to push ten points in front when Shaun Kenny-Dowall turned the ball over inside his own 20 and Australia worked New Zealand over and created space at the corner flag for debutant wing Jharal Yow Yeh.
It was not until 12 minutes left of the first half that the Kiwis had their first real opportunity, a set which began well but ended with a Marshall kick that went nowhere. They seemed shapeless at that stage, with the defensive efforts of Mannering, Blair and in particular a heroic Jeremy Smith keeping them in it.
It took a moment of brilliance to change the flow. Marshall cleverly stripped the ball from Jonathon Thurston, Jason Nightingale got the ball out to substitute Lewis Brown - who had replaced nominated substitute Greg Eastwood in a late reshuffle - and he shrugged aside three men and put Matt Duffie in by the corner.
Marshall was involved in everything, as usual, for the Kiwis, and when Brown was held up over the line just before the hour, New Zealand had some hope.
But when Yow Yeh and Sam Thaiday both went close, it was ominous. Eventually, Australia penetrated the Kiwis' doughty defence when Slater ran 60 metres from a dropped pass, and when Idris similarly capitalised on a mistake from the otherwise industrious Jason Nightingale, it was all over again.
Australia 20 (Billy Slater 2, Yharal Yow Yeh, Jamal Idris tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 conversions) New Zealand 10 (Matthew Duffie, Lance Hohaia tries; Benji Marshall conversion). HT: 10-6.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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