Australia reclaims top spot and title honours in trouncing of New Zealand
Australia were at their typical clinical best as they ran riot over a New Zealand devoid of answers to the brilliance of a resurgent Kangaroos side that scored 6 tries on their way to winning the Four Nations title whilst barely breaking a sweat. Darius Boyd claimed man of the match honours as he made fools of the Kiwis defence time, Cooper Cronk’s kicking game kept the Kiwis under constant pressure and the Australian forward pack rolled through the middle. It was a game they were always in control of and with the victory they return to the #1 spot in the world after spending a short time in the unfamiliar position of second.
The Kiwis did themselves no favours, completing only 25/41 sets in an atrocious display of ball handling skills that would have had the Burgess brothers shaking their heads. Captain Jesse Bromwich was at a complete loss to explain what happened post-game as he was astounded a professional Rugby League side could commit 7 errors within a 20 minute period. The scoreline was 8-10 in the second half but the damage was all done in the first half as the Kiwis are left to rue a disastrous Test campaign for the year.
No 5/8, no clue, no surprise
When Tohu Harris was named at 5/8 without Te Maire Martin on the bench it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Kiwis to win the game with only one proper half in their side. Defensively he was far too slow to keep up with the sweep plays that Darius Boyd was putting on. He skipped past Harris on the outside numerous times setting up two tries and scoring one himself on the Kiwis left edge that injured half Thomas Leuluai had vacated. As much of a great player Harris is, he was hopelessly out of his depth defending further in-field and had fans wondering why he was selected there knowing that such a situation was likely to occur.
For coach David Kidwell though it was a lose lose situation. Had he opted to roll the dice with Martin at 5/8 he would have been throwing a relative rookie, who hadn’t played a game of NRL since late April, into the deep end where plenty of attacking traffic would have been sent his way. As it stands Harris was probably the safest option to have gone with but it served as a stark reminder of how dire the Kiwis halves situation is with the lack of depth and experience available to them. They are in desperate need of an organizing half and unless someone decides to switch allegiances, the return of Kieran Foran can’t come soon enough for the Kiwis.
Dynamic Duo prove haters wrong
The centre/wing pairing of Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson had raised eyebrows ever since they were named for the ANZAC Test earlier in the year. Many questioned whether they were truly the best choices for their positions across the whole NRL given Dugan’s move to the centres in 2016 was short lived and a failure while Ferguson had never played wing once at club level for the team that came 15th. In the Four Nations final though they justified their inclusions with strong performances and gave NSW fans some hope that combo can similarly flourish in the Origin arena.
Ferguson was one of Australia’s best throughout the tournament with his strong running and tall build making him a force to be reckoned with on the flanks. He scored the first try of the final, was faultless under the high ball all game and was solid in defence. He even received the distinguished honour of being voted the player of the series by his team-mates which caps off a remarkable tournament from him in which he was probably lucky to initially keep his spot after an injury to Josh Mansour who looked likely to be preferred at wing to Ferguson.
Josh Dugan took a while to adjust to the position and fought off determined competition from Justin O’Neill to keep his spot but in the end he paid back the faith that was shown in his retention in the team. He scored a double in the first half to help put Australia into a near insurmountable lead, showing great determination to chase down and ground a grubber as it bounced near the dead ball line in between a number of defenders.
2017 World Cup all but over
They might as well just hand Australia the World Cup trophy now given the dominance they have displayed over their opposition in 2016. While it is true that before this year the Kiwis had won 3 straight matches against the Kangaroos it seems as if coach Mal Meninga has got Australia back to their usual invincible selves and it creates a tall order for New Zealand to overcome. They’ll need to re-assess their structures, team selections and have a massive cultural overhaul if they’re to field a side capable of defeating Australia at next year’s World Cup.
The Four Nations did offer up some positive signs for the future of the International game after Scotland produced a good showing. Moments like their draw against New Zealand will make the clashes between the Tier Two nations at the World Cup a treat to watch but as far as the Top 3 nations go, calling it a competition is a bad joke. England and New Zealand can compete on equal terms with Australia but this year none of them looked like they deserved to be in the same league as the Kangaroos. Rugby League has a long way to go before it comes close to creating a respectable International competition.
In The Sheds
Jordan Rapana was taken off the field early in the second half and went to hospital with a suspected fractured eye-socket.
Josh Dugan went down late in the game with a leg injury and was limping afterwards during the post-match presentation.
Tries: Blake Ferguson (3m), Josh Dugan (14m, 31m), Trent Merrin (21m), Darius Boyd (44m), Boyd Cordner (74m)
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 5/8
New Zealand Kiwis- 8
Tries: Jordan Kahu (55m, 68m)