The Kiwis could not defy history or Queensland famed State of Origin heroes to secure a drought-breaking trans-Tasman test victory in Townsville, but a gallant effort suggests their reign as world champions might not be on borrowed time a year out from their title defence in England.
One-off, end-of-season tests are usually an exercise in futility for New Zealand rugby league, but at least the Kangaroos were pushed to the limit before they extended their current winning sequence over the Kiwis to five with a 18-10 victory at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
The Four Nations holders needed to finish strongly to quell a Kiwis side that produced plenty of resolve 12 months after they were thrashed 42-6 in Newcastle.
The Kangaroos required a 71st minute try to Darius Boyd to deny New Zealand their first triumph in a one-off test between the nations since 2003 in North Harbour and retain the Bill Kelly Trophy.
Boyd’s angled run from a Paul Gallen incision was the killer blow after Johnathan Thurston broke a 10-all deadlock with a 63rd minute penalty.
Despite concerns about the contest being played in a furnace-like atmosphere the temperature was a relatively mild 24deg C at kick-off and crucially the humidity was an inconsequential 38 per cent.
But there was still plenty of heat, and it was initially applied by the Kiwis initially when dangerous hooker Issac Luke stunned the majority of a capacity crowd when he surged over from dummy half after Krisnan Inu was grounded centimetres short during New Zealand’s first probe deep into Kangaroos territory.
Inu, playing his first test since 2009, replaced Benji Marshall as goal kicker and slotted the extras from a handy angle.
New Zealand continued to dominate the opening quarter as the famed Queensland connection of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith struggled to impose themselves when confronted with rugged Kiwis defence and error-prone teammates.
But once the Kangaroos forced their first line drop out the captain’s ruthless streak emerged at a play-the-ball 10m out when he split Kieran Foran and Frank Pritchard before sliding over.
A second repeat set from the Kiwis goalposts threatened to provide the platform for another four-pointer until Brett Morris was monstered into touch close to the corner flag.
However, the Kangaroos could not be denied five minutes from the break when James Tamou – revered in his home town, but not as popular in his birthplace – was put through a hole beautifully by Cronk and wrong footed Josh Hoffman before he powered over despite Adam Blair’s best efforts.
Thurston added the conversion as several Kiwis were gasping, hands on hips, but they ended an energy-sapping half with a spring in their step after Sam Perrett – one of the shortest players on the field – climbed above Slater to field a Marshall bomb.
The wing kept the ball alive for Luke, he flung it wide to debutant centre Dean Whare who made a smooth transfer for Gerard Beale to dive over in the corner to square the ledger.
Sam Kasiano, the highest profile test newcomer, opened up with some strong carries but was sidelined after 13 minutes for vigorous work on both calves by medical staff.
He recovered shortly before halftime and although the NRL prop of the year was overshadowed by Tamou’s clinical finish and Matt Scott’s impressive 107m from eight carries before he was spelled the 22-year-old behemoth in short bursts to lead the Kiwi forwards with 113m worth of go forward.
Kangaroos 18 (Cameron Smith, James Tamou, Darius Boyd tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals)
Kiwis 10 (Issac Luke, Gerard Beale tries; Krisnan Inu goal)
- © Fairfax NZ News
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