Ki­wis at the dawn of golden era


Are the Ki­wis no longer the poor cousins in the peren­nial trans-Tas­man rugby league arm wres­tle?

It’s not that the Ki­wis haven’t had their suc­cesses in re­cent years – there was that 24- 0 bash­ing of the Kan­ga­roos in the Tri Na­tions fi­nal at Leeds in 2005, and vic­to­ries in the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Na­tions tour­na­ments.

But the Aussies al­ways come back stronger, as if to re­mind the Ki­wis who’s re­ally boss. Not this time, though. The Ki­wis’ 22-18 win in the Four Na­tions fi­nal in Wellington on Satur­day was the first time since 1953 they’d beaten Aus­tralia in suc­ces­sive tests.

The Ki­wis mauled the Kan­ga­roos 30-12 in Bris­bane in Oc­to­ber in a pre­lim­i­nary match, a five-try pic­nic.

It was pleas­ing, but given the Aus­tralians’ propen­sity for bounc­ing back stronger, didn’t au­gur well for the Ki­wis in the fi­nal.

Aus­tralia then han­dled Eng­land and Samoa eas­ier than did New Zealand on the way to the fi­nal.

The suc­ces­sion of Anzac Day test drub­bings didn’t help ease the mind, ei­ther.

Also, there was the his­tory of league in Wellington. The Ki­wis had not beaten Aus­tralia in Wellington since win­ning a 12- 11 cliffhanger at the Basin Re­serve in 1953 and the mem­ory of that 58- 0 hu­mil­i­a­tion at West­pac Sta­dium in 2007 still burned.

But this time the Ki­wis were sim­ply too good.

I was sur­prised only 25,000 turned up to see the league match of the sea­son. Per­haps the ground might have been full if Sonny Bill Wil­liams had hung on in league in­stead of re­turn­ing to the All Blacks for their north­ern hemi­sphere tour.

There was enough on show in Wellington to sig­nal a new golden era for the Ki­wis. Stacey Jones, Ruben Wiki and co were great, but so are Shaun John­son, Manu Vatu­vei, Si­mon Man­ner­ing and the rest of the cur­rent crop.

Vatu­vei is phys­i­cally im­pos­ing, but there’s more to his game than that.

He clung on to a dif­fi­cult low pass from John­son to score one try and charged across in a bul­lock­ing run for another.

They took his test tries tally to a New Zealand record 20, one past Nigel Va­gana, with Ja­son Nightin­gale up to 17, after the one he scored in Wellington.

Richie McCaw is saluted for the lead­er­ship he brings to the All Blacks, but maybe not enough credit goes Man­ner­ing’s way for his abil­ity to mar­shal his troops at times of cri­sis, and with the War­riors and the Ki­wis, those times are sel­dom far away.

Man­ner­ing has now played 40 tests, fifth on the all-time New Zealand list.

Half­back John­son was fan­tas­tic in the fi­nal, and few will for­get his sec­ond-half ef­fort, when he jet­ted through the Aus­tralian de­fence and left Greg Inglis stand­ing flat­footed for a bril­liant try.

What I es­pe­cially liked about the New Zealand per­for­mance was the ‘‘team’’ el­e­ment of it.

This wasn’t merely a trans­planted War­riors side, who all know each other well.

The Ki­wis squad was drawn from 12 NRL clubs and the play­ers came to­gether su­perbly.

Aus­tralian league fans are now round­ing on their team, call­ing it the weak­est ever, a dis­grace and so on.

For once, it’s nice to see all the an­guish com­ing from that side of the Tas­man.


Daz­zling run: Shaun John­son makes his great break for a try dur­ing the Ki­wis’ win over Aus­tralia on Satur­day.

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