Ki­wis tame Roos

NZ tri­umphs in his­toric nail­biter

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARVIN FRANCE

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.

RENEE MCKAY/PHOTOSPORT

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.

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