Issac Luke and the New Zealand Kiwis have claimed the 2014 Four Nations crown over World Champions Australia, 22 points to 18, in front of a Wellington crowd of 25,183 fans.
Luke was in everything for the Kiwis throughout the 80 minutes, getting the forwards on the front foot with his dummy half play and directing the play well from the base of the ruck.
The Kangaroos were the first to strike when the Kiwis spilt a Cooper Cronk bomb on their own line, with the loose ball bouncing into the arms of Jennings to score in the 10th minute. Cameron Smith converted to give the Kangaroos a six-nil lead after 12 minutes.
The game became spiteful with Greg Bird running in as third man in after a minor scuffle between Luke and Daly Cherry-Evans. The possession and field position afforded to the Kiwis gave them their first opportunity to score, and they took that opportunity with winger Jason Nightingale diving over in the right hand corner in the 23rd minute. Shaun Johnson converted from the touchline to level the scores at six-all.
In the 29th minute, Shaun Johnson slotted a penalty goal after a high tackle, giving the home nation a two-point advantage at the back end of the first half.
The Kiwis crossed for their second try in the 33rd minute with Manu Vatuvei diving over in the left corner after some amazing footwork and evasive play from Shaun Johnson. Johnson stepped five or six players before throwing a long cut out pass to Vatuvei on the left flank, diving over Mata’utia to score. Johnson converted from the touchline to give the New Zealanders a 14-6 lead which they held until half time.
The Australians struck early in the second half with Cherry-Evans setting up a try for Sione Mata’utia in the right hand corner in the 42nd minute. Smith made no mistake with the extras from the eastern touchline to reduce the deficit to two points.
The Kiwis had the Kangaroos under pressure midway through the second half, and it was Johnson that would open up the Australian defence with a show and go around Boyd Cordner to score. His conversion attempt hit the uprights and bounced away, giving the Kiwis a six-point advantage with 20 minutes remaining in the game.
Three minutes later Manu Vatuvei scored his second try when he treated Mata’utia like a doormat, trampling over him on the way to the goal line for the four-pointer. Johnson’s kick hit the posts again, establishing a 22-12 lead with 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Aussies kept themselves in the contest through a try to replacement Ben Hunt in the right hand corner in the 76th minute of play. Some great lead up play from Dylan Walker, including a deft flick pass to Mata’utia led to the try, and Smith’s conversion from the touchline reduced the deficit to four points, 22-18 with three minutes left on the clock.
The Australians mounted some attack which had been absent for the 77 minutes prior. Greg Inglis made a break down the left side including a couple of big ‘don’t argues’, and the ball was thrown around like a hot potato. The Aussies came close to snatching a win with Mata’utia being denied by a forward pass from Walker under pressure and some desperate Kiwis defence, with the New Zealanders holding on to become the Four Nations Champions with a 22-18 victory on home turf.
That win by the by the Kiwis wraps up the 2014 Rugby League season, with Issac Luke playing a big role in New Zealand’s success.
Greg Inglis was one of the Kangaroos’ best throughout the tournament, with Dylan Walker having the opportunity to play at the top level in all four of the Australians’ Test matches. Alex Johnston did not get the opportunity to play for Australia in this series, but the experience of being in the international camp will help his, and Walker’s, development as top line players in the years to come.
George Burgess and Thomas Burgess led the way for the Englishmen throughout their three Test matches, proving to be a formidable front row combination for the ‘Wall of White’.
But the spoils of victory went to the Kiwis, with Issac Luke having the opportunity to hold the Four Nations trophy aloft as he did similarly on Sunday 5 October when he held the Telstra Premiership Trophy above his head with his beloved Rabbitohs ‘brothers’.
New Zealand Kiwis 22 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals)
Australian Kangaroos 18 (Michael Jennings, Sione Mata’utia, Ben Hunt tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals)