THE Kangaroos remain unbeaten under coach Mal Meninga after defeating New Zealand for the third time this year with a 14-8 victory.
Australia did enough to beat New Zealand, with Darius Boyd managing to hold up Shaun Johnson in the second last play of the game, denying the Kiwis a chance at snatching an unlikely draw.
The two sides are almost certain to meet again in the final in a fortnight’s time, where the Kiwis No.1 ranking is on the line. Before that the Kangaroos will play England and New Zealand take on Scotland in the final pool games of the Four Nations.
New Zealand are traditionally big improvers during tournaments and they will need to be if they are to challenge Australia.
While Australia may have beaten New Zealand by a more comprehensive margin when the sides last met in Perth before the tournament, this match at Ricoh Stadium in Coventry was again dominated by the Australian’s.
Although the final margin proved different.
Meninga said the performance was more impressive than the win in Perth last month but gave credit to the tenacity of the Kiwis.
“We were fairly dominant but couldn’t put them away,” Meninga said.
“They kept coming up with special efforts fair play to them. “It was a bit scary at the end but we did enough to put them away.
“It was better than Perth, it was better executed and defensively we were good for most of the game.”
The Kangaroos scored 10 unanswered points in the first half, and they should have had more. Michael Morgan, starting his first game for Australia in the halves with Cooper Cronk rested, starred early, showing great combination with his club teammate Johnathan Thurston.
Winger Blake Ferguson finished with man of the match honours while Greg Inglis was also impressive on the Kangaroos left edge. Australia’s outside backs helped start their sets on the front foot.
Ferguson was given a Test reprieve thanks to a freak training accident to Josh Mansour. And if there were any doubts surrounding Ferguson’s spot in the side, he put that to bed early.
He scored Australia’s opening try after 10 minutes despite a Morgan cut out pass not quite hitting Ferguson’s chest.
The unmarked Ferguson’s adjustment to catch the pass gave the Kiwis defence just enough of an opportunity to try to shut the play down. But Ferguson’s size and strength carried him over the try line.
He had just completed a 50 metre solo run with his previous touch.
Morgan and Ferguson combined for Thurston’s try and with the Kangaroos leading by 10 after 14 minutes, a big victory margin looked likely. The Kiwis opening half performance was summed up best by a Shaun Johnson error.
Winger Jordan Rapana raced 60 metres after snatching an intercept, only to be denied by an Inglis ankle tap. From there, Johnson spilt a tough pass from dummy half, gifting the ball back to Australia.
The Kangaroos led at 10-0 at half-time in front of 21,009 people in the second game of the double header.
New Zealand somehow managed to crawl their way back, when Solomone Kata scored from dummy half, nine minutes after half-time.
While the Kiwis trailed by just eight, they never looked like snatching the lead. Two penalty goals to Thurston extended Australia’s lead to 10.
Some Johnson magic to set Rapana up for a try with two minutes remaining had the Kiwis in the grasp of an unlikely victory. And they almost snatched a chance to draw the game but Johnson was held up by Boyd with only one second to go.
Meninga confirmed that Thurston should be fit to face England next week despite copping a knock on the hip.
“He’s a bit sore, a bit weary, but he’ll be right for next week,” he said.