Australia’s best asset for most of the Rugby League World Cup; it was Billy Slater who quickly became the villan as the Storm fullback launched a miracle pass into enemy hands to gift the Kiwis a crucial try as the New Zealanders romped home to a massive upset win tonight.
Throw in a controversial penalty try, and you had a match that was excitement all the way – New Zealand beating the favourites 34-20 in a match many felt was virtually over before it began.
Australia were unbackable favourites before the kick-off, but the pumped up Kiwis pulled off the biggest upset in World Cup history – it was the first lost match since 2006 for the Green and Golds, now losing their title as the best outfit in world Rugby League.
Some simple errors and brain explosions costs the Aussies dearly, and a controversial video referee call by Steve Ganson to award the visitors a penalty try with ten minutes remaining was probably the right call as Lance Hohaia was taken out by a wrong footed Joel Monaghan.
“The game was back was in a bad state this time last year and some tough decisions had to be made,” Stephen Kearney said of his elevation to the coaching position after Gary Kemp’s sacking.
“I’m very pleased for the game back home, it’s something on the back of what the Warriors achieved this year, I think it’s been a real boost for our game.”
Ganson correctl ruled Australian flanker Joel Monaghan interfered with a flying Lance Hohaia as he followed a Benji Marshall kick through, but some believed that there was an element of doubt over the try because Aussie fullback Billy Slater had equal opportunity to get to the ball in a challenge to Hohaia.
But it wasn’t to be the night for mercial Billy Slater, while named player of the Cup, his risky play cost the Aussies big time – Slater about to rounded up into touch, deciding to throw the ball back in field, but it was snapped up by a waiting Kiwi – the New Zealanders cruising in to score untouched.
The blunder allowing a Benji Marshall touchdown and giving the Kiwis a 22-16 lead with less that 20 minutes on the clock.
Kangaroos boss Ricky Stuart refused to be critical of the fullback Slater.
“I love Billy Slater as a bloke and as a footy player and I would never ever be critical of Billy,” Stuart said.
“He’s in the work space at that time and he knows what to do – some of them don’t come off, some of them do.
“We didn’t play our best game, and (there was a chance) that was always going to happen.
“You only have to have one off night and you can be got against the English and New Zealand, they can get you and that was proven tonight.”
The Australians had looked ominous in the preliminary rounds, not dropping a game and cruising to wins of New Zealand and England.
New Zealand were lucky not to be leading by more, an early miss to pivot Marshall off a crafty Nathan Fein grubber presented them with an ideal chance to get an early score.
Lockyer was a standout for the Kangaroos, getting a double and narrowly missing a touchdown of a Cam Smith grubber, in a try that would have helped the Australians in a big way.
New flanker David ‘Wolfman’ Williams looked at home, scoring a run away try to give the home side a 10-0. But soon after, an Australian attempted strip went wrong and the Kiwis pounced – playing the whistle and running in a for a handy try before half time.
Lockyer’s try right on the half time bell was a sublime effort, the Australians pulling out all stops to rally a hot try before the hooter. Moving through several sets of hands, it was halfback Thurston who started the motion, but it was finished nicely by a close range Watmough offload to Lockyer giving the Aussies a 16-12 lead at half-time – ultimately against the run of play, the Aussies were somehow just ahead of the fired up Kiwis.
But under the guidance of the respected Wayne Bennet, the Kiwis flew out of the blocks after the break to become the first side other than Australia to win a World Cup since Great Britain’s win in 1972.