'Aussie Jim' has last laugh on Kiwis
Even Benji Marshall was calling James Tamou ''Aussie Jim'' last night when the most controversial representative selection in years won the Australian players' player award after helping dismantle the country of his birth.
Fellow North Queensland prop Matt Scott was the official man of the match but Tamou wasn't far behind in the 18-10 win at Dairy Farmers Stadium, scoring his side's second try in the 34th minute and making a crucial break as the game see-sawed before 26,479 fans.
''Is it just me,'' tweeted former Kiwis forward Joe Galuvao, ''or did Tamou go to hug a Kiwi before realising he had just scored for Australia?''
Asked whether it hurt more to have the damage done by a Kiwi, New Zealand captain Marshall said: ''Back to these questions? That's why he's in the team. He's made his decision and we're far past that now.
''Big Sammy [Kasiano] made his decision to play with us and that's all that matters to us. Good luck to James ... Aussie Jim apparently. Good luck to him.''
Asked if he expected more players to choose New Zealand over Australia, Marshall said: ''If people want to play for us, we'll take them. If they don't, like I said, good luck to them.''
Last night's test was a mirror image of the Anzac Test at Eden Park in April as the Kangaroos won by an eight-point margin though they had to work considerably harder to retain the Bill Kelly Memorial Trophy last night and land another psychological blow less than a year out from the World Cup.
Palmerston North-born Tamou's intuition, footwork and power might have changed the course of an entertaining contest five minutes before halftime when the Kangaroos built a potentially demoralising buffer as a tiring opponent eyed halftime.
But in a response indicative of recent efforts against the Four Nations holders, the Kiwis were on level terms at the interval after conjuring up the try-scoring movement of the match.
Marshall's bomb, Sam Perrett's grab and slick transfers from Issac Luke and Dean Whare put Gerard Beale over out wide in the 39th minute, not that the Kangaroos were ever truly backed into a corner.
Crucially the Kiwis were held scoreless from that point on, and their inability to capitalise on superior possession and field position in the third quarter was costly as the Kangaroos finished strongly.
A Johnathan Thurston penalty eased the anxieties of his home town faithful near the hour mark and when an otherwise anonymous Darius Boyd ran the perfect line off Paul Gallen with nine minutes remaining the Kiwis were beaten but unbowed.
''There was a 20-minute period there were we didn't execute quite the way we wanted to,'' lamented Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney.
The Kiwis will regret prop Sam Kasiano being outnumbered and outmuscled close to the line in the 46th minute; a Luke break then put Elijah Taylor in space before he pushed a pass that Josh Hoffman could only stoop to and knock on.
''We did spend a bit of time down on their try line and we came away with nothing. That sort of hurt us a bit,'' Kearney said.
''When you have Australia in that position you need to get a result whether it's a penalty or back-back sets.''
However, he would not be too critical and was proud of a defensive effort that expunged memories of their 42-6 capitulation in the corresponding fixture at Newcastle last year.
''I thought we gave ourselves every opportunity,'' Kearney said, ''Effort? I couldn't ask for any more.''
The former test second rower was proud of a defensive effort highlighted by try-bound Brett Morris being monstered into touch in the first half and Thurston being held up and rolled by impressive fullback Hoffman midway through the second.
Yet while the defensive alignments largely limited the dangers posed by Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, the Kiwis again found points at a premium.
In their last eight tests against the Kangaroos they have exceeded 12 points only twice – including a 16-12 victory in the 2010 Four Nations final.
''Yeah, we will,'' was Kearney's blunt assessment when asked if the team needed to do more than just creep into double figures.
Australia scored three tries to two, Smith leading by example in the 23rd minute to negate Luke's lunge from close range before a mobile Tamou gave New Zealanders another ghastly reminder of what they're missing.
The former New Zealand Maori front rower hit a hole perfectly and then showed the pace and poise of a back to sidestep past Hoffman.
Tamou's virtual replacement in the Kiwis front row, NRL prop of the year Kasiano, made a sizeable impression on debut with some strong carries and offloads incorporated into short bursts that produced 98m of go-forward, the most yardage by a New Zealand forward.
Centre Whare and second rower Kevin Proctor were also not found wanting on their big night out while Perrett, Krisnan Inu and Greg Eastwood all made seamless returns to the Kiwis environment.
''The guys that made their debuts, I thought they looked fairly comfortable out there,'' said Kearney, pleased his deepening playing depth has yielded more candidates to defend the World Cup.
Obviously it would be premature to speculate on the make-up of the Cup squad given the likelihood of form and injury during the 2013 NRL but there is little doubt former front runners Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Manu Vatuvei and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves might struggle to board the plane for England.
Meanwhile, the current squad were only concerned about departing North Queensland today and enjoying some down time before another pre-season cranks up next month.
''Every game is getting better for us,'' said Luke accentuating the positive as he looked forward to the Anzac Test in Canberra next April.
''Our effort's there, we just have to stay in the game for 80 minutes.''
-Fairfax NZ, Fairfax Australia