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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
The New Zealand Kiwis have scored their first victory in Auckland over Australia in 15 years with a 26-24 victory at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
New look sides was the story of the 2018 Trans-Tasman test match, with the nations facing each other for the first time since May 2017 - and indeed the first clash between the two sides on New Zealand soil since 2014.
The start was absolutely perfect for the Kangaroos, with the Kiwis tactic of up-and-in defence backfiring when they couldn't shut down the ball and a good combination of passing between Roosters trio Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary and James Tedesco gave fellow premiership Rooster, centre Latrell Mitchell space out on the left hand side before drawing in the fullback and passing out to Valentine Holmes who took the ball around towards the posts and scored the opener. Holmes converted his own try from close range and the Kangaroos led 6-0.
The momentum was all with the Aussies and they continued to make good metres down the left but their momentum was halted with errors at key times - forward passes and knock ons being ruled against the visitors. The Kiwis began to take advantage of the lucky breaks as they began to go downfield, both off their own steam and from the mounting penalty count against the Australians.
New Zealand began to pile up the repeat sets and eventually they were able to crack the Aussie line when Ken Maumalo got on the outside of Dane Gagai and Tom Trbojevic to claim a try. Although Maumalo claimed the try, referee Ashley Klein went to the bunker on a live decision of no try with Ken Maumalo grounding the ball on the touch in-goal line.
Despite being denied once, it was second time lucky for Maumalo who got through on the outside of Gagai and Trbojevic once again, this time there was no Bunker referral and the try was awarded in the far corner. The momentum had well and truly swung in favour of the Kiwis side, however they couldn't turn the dominance into points. The Australians couldn't retain the ball, and eventually something would have to give - and it did when Joey Manu got over the line and eventually got the ball down. The try wasn't easy for the Roosters centre who had to make a second effort in getting the ball down, which he did successfully. The Kiwis had to wait for the Bunker to award the try and after a forensic review it was awarded.
The Bunker then became the number one enemy of the New Zealand Rugby League fans after captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was denied a try when the bunker ruled that Joseph Manu knocked the ball on in the lead up to a potential four-pointer. The no-try left many people on both sides of the Tasman unhappy with many people thinking the decision was incorrect. The call would leave an extra bitter taste for Kiwi fans when Dane Gagai took off after being put into space by a rampaging Tom Trbojevic and scored a long range effort to put the Aussies in front by 12-8 at the break.
The second half was the Shaun Johnson show, with the New Zealand five-eighth having a starring role in the second half. Although latter forty minutes was ultimately dominated by the Kiwis, it was the Australians who had the best of the running in the early stages of the game with a string of penalties helping the Aussies into NZ territory. Ultimately, they weren't good enough to take advantage of the field position and it was Kiwi rookie Brandon Smith who got over the line first in the second half when he chose to take a dart from dummy half on last tackle. The momentum continued to build for the home side and it was Shaun Johnson who turned on the footwork and drew in the Australian defence and the ball ended up with Esan Marsters who scored to put the home team more than a converted try ahead.
The Kiwis looked to have sealed the game with just over ten minutes to play when Joey Manu showed some tremendous skill, managing to keep himself inside the field of play after having no room to work with, before getting a good offload inside to Jordan Rapana who scored.
But as we well know a Rugby League game is never over with ten to go, and the Kangaroos nearly pulled off the unthinkable when they added two tries in the space of a minute - Felise Kaufusi scored in the corner after the NZ defence was left wanting, and then James Tedesco put the game back on a knife edge when he backed up a good run from Latrell Mitchell to score, and after the Holmes conversion, the margin was back to two.
The Aussies couldn't get the ball out to Mitchell who was going to be the key on the final play, and eventually the ball was cleaned up by the Kiwis and sealed the 26-24 victory over the Australians. The victorious New Zealanders are off to England for a three match series against England, whilst the Kangaroos finish the year off against Tonga at the same venue next Saturday.
New Zealand 26 - Australia 24
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
Halftime Score: New Zealand 8 Australia 12
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Shaun Johnson
2 points - Latrell Mitchell
1 points - Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
NEW ZEALAND (26)
Tries: Ken Maumalo, Joseph Manu, Brandon Smith, Esan Marsters, Jordan Rapana
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (3/5)
Tries: Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai, Felise Kaufusi, James Tedesco
Conversions: Valentine Holmes (4/4)