MELBOURNE trio Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk helped inspire a second half cakewalk for Australia after the Anzac Test in Canberra was tied at halftime.
In chilly conditions in the nation’s capital, Storm rookie Tohu Harris – who made his first grade debut only two months ago was called into the New Zealand side at the 11th hour when skipper Simon Mannering pulled out due to a calf injury.
Four tries in nine minutes during the second half secured for Tim Sheens men a handsome win in their only full international before the World Cup at the end of the season in England, Wales, Ireland and France.
But while World Cup holders New Zealand had three first half tries disallowed, they still managed to score after the siren to tie the scores 6-6 for the break.
Proceedings seemed to be following the script when Storm star Cooper Cronk scored the first try after only six minutes. The halfback’s short pass sent Matt Scott hurtling towards the line and Cronk was on hand to take the offload and dive over, with Cameron Smith converting.
But the Kiwis upped the ante, defending stoutly and hammering the Australian line. Kieran Foran, named captain with Simon Mannering’s late withdrawal, and Frank Pritchard were particularly prominent.
At 11 minutes, Pritchard was held up over the tryline. At 17, Kiwis winger Jason Nightingale appeared to spill a bomb, allowing Australia’s Sam Thaiday to dive over.
But video referees Steve Clark and Henry Perenara spotted an aerial knock-on by Brett Morris and chalked off the try.
Another six minutes elapsed before New Zealand lock Alex Glenn dived over. Despite his confidence, the eyes in the sky ruled he had knocked on as he slammed the ball down and Stephen Kearney’s side remained scoreless.
Kiwis centre Dean Whare was just as confident he had scored on the half hour. But Klein spotted, and asked the video referees to check, Jason Nightingale dragging Justin Hodges away from diving on his own knock-on.
Foran argued that if the try was going to be disallowed, it should be a scrum feed to the Kiwis for Hodges’ knock-on. But Klein gave Australia a penalty, telling Foran “it’s a major infringement versus a minor infringement”.
Four minutes later, Foran grubber-kicked into the in-goal and Pritchard claimed the lolling ball. But he knocked on at his first lunge for the Steeden, making it the third New Zealand try disallowed.
After keeping the Australians out at one end, New Zealand scored at the other seconds after the bell for halftime.
Pritchard grubber-kicked, fullback Josh Hoffman flashed through to touch down and halfback Shaun Johnson – who had earlier landed a sweeping 4020 kick – landed a difficult conversion.
By scoring the try, the Kiwis bucked a trend from mid-season Tests which sees the Australians score late points in the first half.
But they couldn’t buck the trend of their own second half collapses in these matches.
Eleven minutes into the second session, Australia centre Greg Inglis scored perhaps the untidiest try of the season. A pass was knocked down, there was the suggestion of dummy runner Paul Gallen colliding illegally with Jared Wearea Hargreaves and also of Billy Slater knock on.
But the green light went up, Australia regained the lead and they never surrendered it. “Billy Slater knocked it on – and they ran behind the dummy runner,” Foran blasted, to no avail.
Three minutes later, Bill Slater popped the ball over the top to an unmarked Brett Morris and the scoreline was extended to 16-6.
At that point, New Zealand were still technically in the contest but tiring badly. When lock Gallen carted the ball into the teeth of the defence and handed Luke Lewis a lovely pass, the replacement charged over near the posts.
Hooker Smith made it 22-6 and Billy Slater made a break straight from the kick-off, after another gem of a Gallen pass. Seconds later, Johnathan Thurston’s kick put Darius Boyd over for a try which Smith could not convert.
Centre Justin Hodges scored Australia’s sixth try with seven minutes remaining. Pritchard was rewarded for his efforts with a late touchdown.
AUSTRALIA 32 (Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Brett Morris, Luke Lewis, darius Boyd, Justin Hodges tries; Cameron Smith 4 goals) beat NEW ZEALAND 12 (Josh Hoffman, Frank Pritchard tries; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 25,628
Filed for: THE SUNDAY AGE