Australia have brought the World Cup action to a close with a clinical 30-10 win against Samoa at Old Trafford this morning.
In front of a crowd of over 67,000, the pressure was all on the Kangaroos, and they delivered beautifully. The win seals the women's and men's double for Australia, and rounds up a superb month of rugby league.
It was an intense start to the game, with both sets of forwards taking strong runs in heavy traffic. A 40/20 attempt from Chanel Harris-Tavita in the 4th minute appeared to be successful for Samoa, but the call went against his team. Nevertheless, it was Samoa who were on top field position wise early on.
A forward pass out of dummy half from Ben Hunt invited Samoa onto the attack, but Australia's defence held firm. Off the back of a 20m tap, the Kangaroos stormed downfield to win themselves a repeat set. Once they had some attacking ball, it wouldn't be long until Australia opened the scoring.
A 14th minute try from Latrell Mitchell on the left edge was the first of the night. Going down the short side on the last, a defensive misread from Samoa allowed Mitchell to muscle his way through. Cleary's first kick of the night fell well short of the posts, continuing his poor kicking form at this world cup.
A solid set after points from the Kangaroos trapped Samoa down in their own half, and they added to their lead just minutes later when James Tedesco crossed in the 19th minute. Josh Addo-Carr made the line break, and found his fullback backing up on the inside for Tedesco to cross underneath the posts, and extend the lead to ten points.
Australia continued to be on top, until a wayward kick from Munster gave Samoa a 20m tap and the break they needed. A Jarome Luai kick was regathered by Joseph Suaalii, and with an overlap on the left edge Samoa looked in for all money. But a desperate attempted intercept from Josh Addo-Carr was enough to deny the Samoans.
With the crowd at their back, Samoa's attacking raid continued, but a cheap Milford error took the sting out of the Samoa side. Australia did what they do best, and stormed downfield in the following set. Liam Martin crossed the stripe for the Kangaroos in the 31st minute in a huge blow for Samoa, but the missed conversion kept the scoreline at 14-0.
14-0 would remain the scoreline as the teams entered the shed for half time. Samoa got first use of the ball in the second half, with a massive task ahead of them. And they didn't do themselves many favours, with Stephen Crichton dropping the ball on the first set back out there.
Errors were a recurring theme at the start of the second half, with Samoa gifted plenty of field position and attacking ball by some sloppy Kangaroos handling. It was Australia's defence that continued to be the star of the show, with Samoa struggling to find any weak spots despite numerous opportunities.
A raised forearm from Angus Crichton in the 47th minute ended in a sin bin for him, but more crucially perhaps for Samoa, the end of Chanel Harris-Tavita's night, and possibly the end of his Rugby League career. With their dummy half off the field, Milford shifted into the hooker role, with Luai taking up increased duties in the halves.
Despite more errors from Australia and Samoa's extra man advantage, the blue & white couldn't find their opening points of the night. Off the back of a Cameron Munster strip, Cameron Murray crossed in the 53rd minute, and the subsequent conversion extended Australia's lead to twenty points.
Five minutes later, Samoa finally opened their account, keeping their hopes alive of a late comeback. Brian To'o crossed on the right wing after receiving a huge cut-out ball from his half Luai. Crichton nailed the conversion kick to bring the scoreline to 20-6 with 18 minutes still on the clock.
Samoa couldn't convert yet another attacking set in the following minutes, and the Kangaroos made them pay in the 69th when Tedesco crossed for his double. But Samoa weren't done yet, with Stephen Crichton pulling off yet another miracle intercept to cross untouched in the 71st minute, bringing the score to 26-10.
A 40/20 kick from Cleary led to one final try for the Kangaroos in the 80th minute when Mitchell crossed for his double. The missed conversion saw the final scoreline sit at 30-10.
Samoa's efforts at this world cup need to be built upon despite the result in the final. The next World Cup is only three years away, and Australia are the clear benchmark. It's been an entertaining month of footy, and with club pre-season in full swing, the rugby league action will continue over the coming months.