League Express match report: AUSTRALIA 18 NEW ZEALAND 10 at Dairy Farmers Stadium

7 Luke try, Inu goal         0-6
23 Smith try                 4-6
34 Tamou try, Thurston goal  10-6
37 Beale try                 10-10
62 Thurston goal             12-10
71 Boyd try, Thurston goal   18-10
TWELVE months after being humiliated in the corresponding game – and another 12 before the World Cup – New Zealand are back snapping at Australia’s heels.
The 42-6 defeat in Newcastle was a distant memory on Saturday night as Stephen Kearney’s Kiwis pushed the Australians all the way in front of a sold-out 26,479 crowd at Townsville’s Dairy Farmers Stadium.
A dubious penalty against Kiwis Benji Marshall and Krisnan Inu for stripping the ball from Greg Inglis looked like being the difference until Australian winger Darius Boyd crossed to make sure of it in the 71st minute.
“It was hard going,” said Australia coach Tim Sheens, recently sacked as Wests Tigers head coach.
“We gave up an intercept just after halftime earlier this year and it got them back into the game. We had to hold our composure at the back end of the game – both games, actually – and poke our noses in front.
“That’s why people stay, that’s why there’s so much interest in the Test matches now – because you can never be sure that you’re going to win it, or who’s going to win it.”
Prop David Shillington agreed. “It was looking pretty hairy for a while there,” he said.
The evening started with a surprise team change when Sheens opted to start with Tony Williams in place of the nominated loose forward, Nate Myles.
He later explained Myles had received a knock on a chronic sternum injury during the week – but there was no denying the plan to target Benji Marshall with Williams’ bull-like runs early.
Williams, as it turned out, did not have one of his better games and Marshall was not significantly blunted. Nevertheless, Myles didn’t get on until the 56th minute.
The Kiwis scored first when hooker Issac Luke forced his way over at seven minutes, video referees Leon Williamson and Paul Simpkins happy there had been no double movement. Centre Inu goaled and the New Zealanders were looking particularly sharp.
It was the other hooker, Cameron Smith, who scored the response – from dummy half, close range, with Johnathan Thurston missing the conversion. Smith is only the third player since the introduction of Origin to lift club, state and international trophies in a single year.
Cooper Cronk’s superb selective passing fround “Aussie Jim” Tamou instead of the man most people thought he would put through, clubmate Ryan Hoffman, in the 34th minute and when the Cowboy rumbled over, this seemed to be the point at which the Australians would asert their superiority.
Instead, New Zealand produced the try of the match.
Captain Marshall hoisted a bomb, Sam Perrett climbed into the sky and beat Billy Slater to it and tapped the ball down to Issac Luke, whose heady cutout ball found Dean Whare, the man who put winger Gerard Beale over in the corner.
This brought up the halftime ledger of 10-10 and that’s where it stayed until the 62nd minute, when Thurston landed his penalty goal. Boyd ran around to improve his position for the final coversion.
The Australians were down to a three-man bench rotation by then, with Ryan Hoffman forced off with ankle ligament trouble. He is not expected to miss any of the pre-season.
“With the lads’ effort, I probably couldn’t have asked for a great deal more,” said New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney. “There was probably just a 20 minute period there where we didn’t execute quite the way we wanted to, we didn’t get a good finish to our sets.
“The last Test last year was 42-6. For us, it’s about trying to improve where we’ve come from and, you know, it’s no different next time we play Australia.
“The guys that made their debuts … gee, I thought they looked fairly comfortable out there. Kevvy Proctor and big Sam (Kasiano) and young Dean Whare – I thought he had a great game.”
The fact that Tamou, a former Maori representative and New Zealand train-on squad member, won the Australian players’ player award again fascinated the media. “Back to these questions?” said Marshall when he was asked about the issue.
“That’s why he’s in the team. He’s made his decision and we’re far past that now. Big Sammy made his decision to play with us and that’s all that matters to us. Good luck to James – “Aussie Jim” apparently. Good lucky to him, Aussie Jimmy.”
Asked if he expected significant changes to his squad before the World Cup, Kearney said: “It’s hard to say. Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s not there, Manu Vatuvei’s not there, Sam Rapira, Sika Manu, Frank Paul Nuuausala, Jared Wearea-Hargreaves… there’s a number of kids who are out through injury or didn’t get picked because the team we had there had some form players in it.”
Sheens can now expect to be reappointed for the World Cup. He has lost just one game in charge of the green and golds and says he will stand down after the tournament.
Kearney said he was happy with Ben Cummins and “we should keep a southern hemisphere ref for this game and the Anzac Test.”
1 Billy Slater (Melbourne)
2 Darius Boyd (Newcastle)
3 Greg Inglis (South Sydney)
4 Josh Morris (Canterbury)
5 Brett Morris (St George Illawarra)
6 Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland)
7 Cooper Cronk (Melbourne)
8 Matt Scott (North Queensland)
9 Cameron Smith (capt, Melbourne)
10 James Tamou (North Queensland)
11 Greg Bird (Gold Coast)
12 Paul Gallen (Cronulla)
17 Tony Williams (Manly)
Subs (all used):
14 Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers)
15 Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne)
16 David Shillington (Canberra)
13 Nate Myles (Gold Coast)
1 Josh Hoffman (Brisbane)
2 Sam Perrett (Canterbury)
3 Krisnan Inu (Canterbury)
4 Dean Whare (Manly)
5 Gerard Beale (Brisbane)
6 Benji Marshall (capt, Wests Tigers)
7 Kieran Foran (Manly)
8 Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne)
9 Issac Luke (South Sydney)
10 Sam Kasiano (Canterbury)
11 Frank Pritchard (Canterbury)
12 Kevin Proctor (Melbourne)
13 Simon Mannering (New Zealand Warriors))
Subs (all used):
14 Elijah Taylor (New Zealand Warriors)
15 Ben Matulino (New Zealand Warriors)
16 Greg Eastwood (Canterbury)
17 Adam Blair (Wests Tigers)
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-6, 4-6, 10-6, 10-10, 12-10, 18-10
Australia: James Tamou
New Zealand: Issac Luke
Referee: Ben Cummins (Australiao). Attendance: 26,479
Halftime: 10-10. Penalty count: 4-4.

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