The annual ANZAC test finished the way it also seems to, with a dominating 30-12 win by the Kangaroos. The Kiwis once again failed to live up to expectations, and the quick start by the Aussies set the course for the game. Two tries in the second half for the Kiwis earned them a little more respect, but ultimately their poor kicking game killed any chance they may have had at a win on Friday night.
Kangaroos execute calm, controlled performance
In a world cup year, where you need to peak at the right time, Australia sent a message to their fellow World Cup contenders and proved their dominance in world Rugby League. Australia had to defend their line for most of the first 10 minutes with the Kiwis managing good field position, and some good pace in their early attacking football. However, a repeat set from Copper Cronk’s boot and a forced ball in goal saw the Aussies score through the hands of Josh Dugan in the 12th minute, who finished off a well-placed kick from Thurston.
The defence of the Aussies supported their call for control of the game. Matt Gillet highlighted try saving tackles, as well as the right edge of Dugan and Ferguson who neutralised the Kiwis attack out wide. Absorbing the early pressure, the Roos began to click on the attack. The Kiwis had an overlap, and a waited pass from Johnson allowed Ferguson to pounce and intercept the ball, a run home for a massive try in the 17th minute to make the scores 12-0. Later on, a double pump by Cameron Smith set up Sam Thaiday, who drew in three defenders and only had to evade Kevin Proctor, later being finished off by Will Chambers for an easy. From there, the Kangaroos had a hand on the game and only had to focus on continuing their defensive intensity. Cronk and Thurston were content with grubber kicking the ball out of play and playing for territory to mess with the minds of the Kiwis and force them to start sets dep in their own half.
The Kangaroos are terrific front runners, and if you were ever unsure over that statement, Friday night proved it. Defence set them up and their attack fed off that brilliant output. As much as the Kiwis are never peaking during around this time of year, the Kangaroos made a statement with this win.
Kiwis core fail to fire when it matters
The Warriors spine that people said could be the difference for the Kiwis to win the test proved to be more wrong than right.
Johnson’s kicking game never seemed to work, and from his first two efforts that sailed over the dead ball line, he would never find his rhythm and the Kiwis would be left with lacklustre chances close to the Kangaroos’ line. Both Foran and Tuivasa-Sheck had solid outings, contributing heavily to their teams attacking success. Foran took the line on strong and ran the ball with a lot of strength. Although he was unable to penetrate the Roos, and they handled him well, Foran still managed to get the Kiwis going and at least look to his forwards to make big runs down the field. Tuivasa-Sheck came off the back of some great plays, sweeping out and moving towards the goal line supported by his centres or wings. After an unsuccessful try attempt in the first half, and some menacing runs, he cracked the line and scored the Kiwis second try in the 65th minute to make the score line an easier site for New Zealanders back home.
Issac Luke also failed to do the one thing I believed was required for the Kiwis to stand a chance: Run the ball strong from the ruck and pick out holes in the defence. Granted the Kangaroos defensive line was always perfectly formed and almost impenetrable, but Luke’s efforts seemed tame and resorted to passing off to the halves or forwards. His running game has dropped in 2017, but when Luke has performed for the Warriors they have looked a different side. That unfortunately was not the case in the Test on Friday.
Ultimately missed opportunities killed the Kiwis, and the class to finish sets slipped away from the Kiwis’ game breakers. A time goes on, and assuming the Warriors gain some solid wins in 2017, the Kiwis spine will be more intimidating come the World Cup.
Gillett proving to be the best
Matt Gillett, man of the match, made his statement for the best defensive player in the game right now. His influence without the ball this year for Brisbane has sky rocketed, and in the test his work was just as good if not better. Gillett’s crunching tackles have been part of highlight reels this season, as well as his ability to scramble close to his own line. He made a game high 46 tackles on Friday night, which included a variety of huge hits and try savers. Specifically, his efforts to sprint across the field and stop Tuivasa-Sheck from scoring in the first half, and to replicate a similar thing later in the second stanza were tremendous.
Gillett with the ball in hand on the right edge was also threatening to the Kiwis line, where he broke through twice, highlighted by a terrific run late in the second half to set up a great attacking set for the Roos. His work-rate is brilliant, and Gillett is fast becoming the best second rower in the game.
Dugan’s injury overshadows good performance
Personally the selection of Josh Dugan over Michael Jennings was odd, to say the least. Not even a mention of James Roberts based on his tremendous form was also a bit odd. It is not that Dugan is not an exceptional player ridden with talent; it is that he is a far better fullback and the idea of swapping positions so much in League turns my stomach sometimes.
Dugan proved me wrong to an extent, with a great performance on both sides of the ball. Early on he had some menacing runs and immediately troubled the defence. His try, flying through the air to catch a ball against one of the best defensive wingers in the game in Jordan Kahu was the start he needed to prove any doubters wrong. Defensively he made huge tackles on the right side, including one on the flying Dallin Watene-Zelezniak that stopped a strong Kiwis play.
In the 48th minute Dugan suffered a nasty head clash with Russell Packer, and left the field with a suspected broken cheekbone. The suspension was confirmed, and the hopes of the Dragons and NSW Origin fans plummeted with the news. Laurie Daley will have to re-think his squad and who will play at the right centre position, as Dugan’s play on Friday would surely have earned him that starting spot at the end of this month.
Tries: Dugan (12m), Ferguson (17m), Chambers (29m), Frizell (35m), J. Trbojevic (44m)
Goals: Thurston 5/5
Tries: Mannering (56m), Tuivasa-Sheck (65m)
Goals: Kahu 2/2
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