Monday 18 December 2017 / 04:44 AM

GOLDEN POINTS: TRANS-TASMAN TEST EDITION

Australia kicked off its post-season campaign with an ultimately convincing 26-6 win over New Zealand at a packed nib Stadium in Perth, cruising to victory in the second half as their opponents imploded.

After the Kangaroos shot to an 8-0 lead, a Test classic loomed as the Kiwis dominated the second 20 minutes and trailed by just two at the break. But an error-riddled display after halftime by the visitors virtually handed the spoils to Mal Meninga’s patient, professional side in a weird second stanza.

Roos’ complete team performance

The fact two-try hero Greg Inglis claimed man-of-the-match honours for not much more than a very solid performance in the centres was a reflection of the Kangaroos’ outstanding team effort from 1-17.

Aside from bench utility Michael Morgan, who made two handling errors in an otherwise OK outing, there wasn’t a subpar performer in green and gold. The hosts’ pack was dominant for long periods and weathered the storm during the Kiwis’ brief spurts of momentum, while the defensive display across the board was magnificent.

Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk showed typical control under heavy fire from the physical New Zealanders, Cameron Smith directed traffic superbly and every player seemed to know their role.

There was no one better on the field than second-row duo Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett, or front-row veteran Matt Scott. The debuting Shannon Boyd was excellent, Valentine Holmes laid on a brilliant try and scored one in a memorable maiden Test outing, and the Kangaroos’ other newcomer, Tyson Frizell, looked like he belonged.

Kiwis show plenty of guts, no brains

In an overall sloppy performance, the Kiwis can take heart from a gutsy defensive effort that kept them in the match far longer than they were entitled.

Two of the Kangaroos’ tries were fortuitous efforts from deflected kicks, and another was highly dubious directly from a Kiwis error, before Cordner put the icing on the cake late with the home side’s fifth try.

New Zealand was starved of territory and possession, yet managed to come up with countless big plays on the other side of the ball to save a bit of pride.

On the down side, 14 errors prevented them from building any pressure, while their kicking game and fifth-tackle options were appalling. There was a distinct lack of composure from linchpin Shaun Johnson, exacerbating the absence of marquee men Kieran Foran and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but he was one of many senior players who were well below their best.

SKD-marks soil NZ performance

Shaun Kenny-Dowall has produced many fine hands at right centre for New Zealand and is coming off arguably the two best seasons of his NRL career, but the rangy veteran turned in one of the worst Test performances of all time in the Kiwis’ 20-point loss.

The 17-Test stalwart made four glaring handling errors – one of which gifted Australia the first try of the second half – while his sluggishness in defence contributing to both of the Kangaroos’ first-half four-pointers.

If SKD holds off Gerard Beale and David Fusitu’a for a spot in the Kiwis’ critical Four Nations opener against England, he can consider himself incredibly fortunate.

Kiwis’ front-row falls flat

Kenny-Dowall’s mindblowingly bad display deflected some negative attention from another area the Kiwis fell majorly short. Their vaunted front-row had many pundits – including myself – tipping an upset, but Jesse Bromwich and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were poor to say the least.

Permanently installed as New Zealand captain for this campaign, never has Bromwich been so ineffective. The player widely regarded as the best prop in the world returned modest figures of 27 tackles and nine hit-ups, came up with a bad handling error when the Kiwis had a rare attacking chance and barely made an impression with his renowned running and second-phase game.

JWH, keen to make an impact in his first Test outing since the 2013 World Cup final, coughed up an early ball and simultaneously caught Thurston with a coat-hanger, giving the early momentum to the Kangaroos. He did nothing to make up for the early transgression, producing a paltry 15 tackles and four runs.

Like his Roosters clubmate, Waerea-Hargreaves will be hard-pressed retaining his Test jumper for the Kiwis’ next outing.

Kidwell’s folly

Dubious game-plan aside, David Kidwell’s first Test in charge of the Kiwis will forever be marked by his baffling misuse of wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo. Regarded as arguably the greatest forward in the rugby league universe after becoming the first backrow Dally M medallist since 1989, Taumalolo was mystifyingly kept on the bench for almost half the game.

The 23-year-old averaged 54 minutes of game-time for the Cowboys this year and is no longer the impact player with a limited motor he was as a teenager. For the top metre-eater of 2016 to only have time for eight carries was a colossal balls-up from Kidwell, who held Taumalolo back after his opening spell until there was only 15 minutes to go – and the Kiwis’ hopes had effectively evaporated.

Best of the beaten bunch

From an individual perspective, there were several encouraging signs for the badly-beaten Kiwis. Solomone Kata was immense on debut, outplaying Josh Dugan with several barnstorming runs and outstanding defence – especially on his own goal-line.

Kata’s defensive combination with veteran winger Jason Nightingale, who made a game-high 19 runs in a courageous performance, was arguably the team’s highlight. Meanwhile, Jordan Kahu’s clean-up work at the back was first-class and helped the Kiwis avert further disaster.

Martin Taupau and Adam Blair were easily the two best interchange performers from either side, with Taupau running for a team-high 129 metres and making their only second-half line-break, and Blair making a huge impact in attack and defence.

Inglis strides towards Locky’s record

Only Darren Lockyer (35 tries) and Ken Irvine (33) stand ahead of Greg Inglis on the list of Australia’s all-time Test try-scorers, with Saturday’s double taking him to 30 touchdowns in 35 appearances. Already the top try-scorer in Origin history, GI could conceivably join or overtake Lockyer with a possible four appearances to come over the next six weeks.

Bunker blues hit Test arena

The Bunker mercifully managed to stay out of controversy in the grand final, but the maligned video men were back in the firing line for a dusty performance in the Test. Obsessed with making lightning-quick decisions, they took a disturbingly brief look at what certainly appeared to be a Thurston knock-on in the lead-up to Holmes’ vital try, while they failed to intervene on a dud knock-on call against Shaun Johnson later in the second half. Speedy decisions are worthless if they’re incorrect and inconsistent.

In defence of SJ

Johnson will inevitably come under fire for an underwhelming performance when the Kiwis badly needed direction, but any appraisal of his game should come with a couple of footnotes. New Zealand’s pack gave him almost nothing to work off the back of, while Issac Luke’s ordinary dummy-half service didn’t help, either.

Furthermore, Johnson was forced to make 34 tackles (no misses), regularly saving the Kiwis’ bacon with his defence – an underrated facet of his flashy kitbag that has improved drastically over the last couple of years. And he did lay on the Kiwis’ only try with a beautiful flat ball for Kevin Proctor.

Perth stakes NRL claim

Expansion may or may not still be on the NRL’s agenda because they refuse to talk about it, but if there is to be another club or two invited to the premiership, Perth has to be at the front of the queue. A ground record crowd followed on from three 20,000-plus turnouts to see the Warriors from 2013-15, as well as 13,142 to see Souths play Gold Coast this year and 11,109 who came to watch the Warriors and Manly do battle in terrible conditions.

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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