FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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Stacey Jones has lost track of the number of flights he has made over the last six weeks but he has no doubt that victory in the Gillette Tri-Nations Series has made them all worthwhile.
As a jet-lagged Jones prepares to complete the final leg of his weary, whistle-stop, globe-trot, he will bask in the glory of one of the most stunning wins in the history of rugby league.
The Kiwis? 24-0 triumph over Australia ended the Kangaroos? world supremacy in emphatic fashion on a memorable night at Elland Road.
The Aussies were condemned to a first series defeat since they lost both Tests to France at the end of the 1978 Kangaroo tour and a first series defeat by the Kiwis for 52 years.
In nilling the Kangaroos for the first time for 20 years, New Zealand equalled their biggest-ever win over Australia, a 49-25 victory at Brisbane in 1952.
It was a fitting way for popular skipper Ruben Wiki to mark his 50th Test appearance and special, too, for Jones, who won his 40th cap just 26 hours after rejoining his team-mates.
The 29-year-old scrum-half, who originally flew to France to link up with his new club Catalans Dragons, returned home to Auckland to watch his wife Rachelle deliver their third child but he was back at the airport within five hours of the caesarean birth.
?I?ve lost track of days and time,? he admitted. ?I can?t wait to get back home. I guess I?ll sit back in the next few days and reflect on it all. I?m pretty tired at the moment and there?s a long flight home too.
?But for sure it?s worthwhile and the people I?d like to thank are the players who let me come back to the team without being involved. The boys have been great. The appreciation should go to them and to my wife as well for letting me come.?
Jones, the 2002 Golden Boot winner, retired from the international game 18 months ago and, after some gentle persuasion from new coach Brian ?Bluey? McClennan, agreed to play the first two Tri-Nations games in Sydney and Auckland.
After ending the tournament as an ever-present and leading scorer with 42 points, the little general revealed that it was a sense of being wanted that persuaded him to continue on the comeback trail.
?I wasn?t hounded to play last year but Bluey said ?we?re going to get you to come back and play?. They were struggling for players, with Thomas Leuluai and Benjamin Marshall out, so it made it easier. Ruben asked if I could play. Last year I was left alone.?
Jones went into Saturday?s final without a training session but slotted neatly back into the fray, setting up first-half tries for Paul Whatuira and Manu Vatuvei with high kicks and providing the telling passes that created other tries for the 19-year-old Vatuvei and Brent Webb.
He failed with his first three conversion attempts but, aided by the Australians? growing indiscipline, found his accuracy with a couple of penalties to stretch his side?s lead to 16-0 by half-time and he added two more goals in the second half.
?I was finding the first half pretty hard but the guys knew what they were doing and made is so much easier for me,? he said.
?We?ve played together for six weeks now and that?s been a big part of it. The team has got a great culture going and they train really well as well. The game plan we have is pretty basic really. I just had to do the kicking. The guys dominated around the ruck and the defence was huge.?
Jones, who will take his enlarged family to France in January to help prepare for the Perpignan club?s entry into Super League, says Saturday?s momentous victory will act as a tonic for the 13-man code in New Zealand, where the game is overshadowed by the success of the All Blacks.
But he was magnanimous in victory, insisting that Australia will still be favourites to regain the trophy when the Tri-Nations Series heads down under in 2006.
?They?ve been bullying us for a lot of years so it?s about time we got one over on them,? he said.
?I don?t think we?ll be favourites next year. It?s all on the day. We dominated today (Saturday) but Australia always seem to be favourites to win any rugby league game. We were just fortunate that tonight it was our night.?
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Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this report.
More info: www.tri-nations.com.au
Discussion: Tri-Nations Forum at http://forums.leagueunlimited.com/forumdisplay.php?f=130