Kiwis tame Roos
NZ triumphs in historic nailbiter
If this is what life looks like under Michael Maguire, the Kiwis are in safe hands.
The Kiwis shrugged off a controversial no-try call from the video referee to put a horror 18 months behind them with a stunning 26-24 upset over the Kangaroos.
Up 8-6 in the shadows of the halftime, New Zealand suddenly found themselves trailing by four at the break after inspirational rookie captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was denied what seemed to be a ceratin try before Australia went the length of the field to score.
While that setback may have broken teams of previous years, Maguire’s new-look outfit just kept on coming to overpower the Kangaroos for most of the second half, surviving a late rally to close out one of the greatest results in Kiwis history.
Brandon Smith and Joseph Manu both scored on the debut, with the latter edging his blockbuster matchup with Roosters team-mate Latrell Mitchell.
Ken Maumalo, Esan Marsters and Jordan Rapana also crossed, while five-eighth Shaun Johnson’s running game came to the fore in the second half to claim man of the match honours.
The only disappointing part was that Mt Smart Stadium was only half full. But it’s results like these that will get the fans flooding back.
This may have been an Australian side minus legends Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston, but they were still heavily favoured to see off a Kiwis team rebuilding after last year’s World Cup flop.
It was an incredibly nervous start as the Kangaroos crossed after just three minutes through Valentine Holmes.
But the Kiwis built into the contest.
They had a golden chance to hit back after being camped in Australia’s red zone for multiple sets. And they looked to be in when Maumalo crossed in the corner, only for the ball to touch the sideline.
While the Kiwis continued to dominate possession, it was going to take something special to unlock a resolute Australian defence.
Enter Watene-Zelezniak and Manu. After a couple of Martin Taupau offloads, who was brilliant off the bench, put Australia on the back foot, Watene-Zelezniak pulled off an audacious between-the-legs pass for Maumalo to score.
Manu then got one back over Mitchell as he palmed off Mitchell and carried three defenders over the line to put his side in front.
Controversy struck just before the break when Manu showed what appeared to be finger-tip control to pick up a loose pass and kick through for a flying WateneZelezniak to score.
Despite being sent up as a try, the video officials ruled Manu had knocked on. And seconds before halftime, the visitors compounded that call by going the length of the field to score through Dane Gagai.
With 69 per cent possession in the first half and all the momentum, that could have taken the wind out of the home team’s sails.
But they refused to roll over. The Kiwis showed great scramble on defence early in the second half before a gamble from Smith, who snuck over from dummy-half on the last tackle, paid off.
There may have been a hint of a double movement but the Kiwis deserved a square-up for what transpired earlier.
Then with 18 minutes to go, Johnson stamped his mark on the game. The star playmaker shaped to go right but cut back across field to create numbers down the left for Marsters to score.
Johnson’s conversion put the Kiwis up by eight before Manu again got on the outside of Mitchell. And he popped the ball back inside to Rapana for what was the matchsealing try.
With strike players right across the park, the Kangaroos could never be counted out. And everyone in the ground was on the edge of their seats when Felise Kaufusi and James Tedesco scored in the last five minutes.
But this was the Kiwis’ night.
Let the new era begin.
Kiwis wing Ken Maumalo is airborne but still manages to twist and turn to get the ball down inside the corner flag against Australia in Auckland last night.