New Zealand held on to win a thrilling Four Nations Final in Wellington, defeating Australia 22-18 and holding on when a try in the final minute of the game was disallowed by English referee Phil Bentham because of a forward pass.
It was the culmination of a compelling match and a wonderful tournament, with the Kiwis just about deserving to come out on top in front of a crowd of 25,183 at the WestPac Stadium.
Early on it didn’t look as though it was going to go the Kiwis’ way, as Shaun Johnson and Dean Whare couldn’t handle a Cooper Cronk kick in the eleventh minute, knocking the ball back over their own line and allowing Michael Jennings to pounce to open the scoring, with Cameron Smith adding the goal.
The Kiwis equalised twelve minutes later, however, when they followed up a superb break by Shaun Kenny-Dowall with quick passing to the right to enable winger Jason Nightingale to touch down, with Johnson adding the goal from the touchline.
Johnson converted a penalty soon afterwards to give New Zealand the lead and they extended their lead to eight points when some brilliant trickery by Johnson, and a long ball to Manu Vatuvei on the wing, saw another try in the corner, and again Johnson was up to the task of converting from touch.
The Australians regrouped at half-time, however, and within two minutes of the restart they had closed the gap to two points, with Daly Cherry-Evans showing smart footwork to put Matautia in at the corner, with Smith also adding a fine conversion.
The game was then held up for several minutes while New Zealand forward Martin Taupau was carried off the field in a neck brace after being injured in a tackle.
On 57 minutes Johnson, who was voted the man of the match, stamped his authority on the game, making a great break and sidestepping Australian fullback Greg Inglis, although this time his attempted goalkick hit the post.
And as the Kiwis opened out, Vatuvei was in for his second, running through rookie Australian winger Matautia to score in the corner, but again Johnson hit the post with his attempted conversion.
As the game entered its closing stages, the New Zealand crowd thought they were home and dry, but with just four minutes to go Ben Hunt scored for the Australians, taking a speculative Cronk pass, and Smith’s conversion closed the gap to four points.
And when the Aussies gained a penalty with just 85 seconds to go they threw everything into attack to try to rescue the game, and Matautia touched down, but referee Bentham called a forward pass, and the Kiwis had won the game.
A full report, photographs, analysis and comment will feature in Monday’s edition of Rugby League Express.