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The Gallagher Kangaroos got the better of the Kiwis in a 36-18 win on Saturday night, setting the scene for an intriguing Pacific Championships final showdown between the two nations next week in Hamilton.
Australia never trailed in the contest and after an opening 21 minutes in which the match ebbed and flowed, they always enjoyed a lead on the scoreboard, with a double from front-rower Lindsay Collins and the accurate boot of returning winger Valentine Holmes doing much of the damage at AAMI Park.
While Australia were already 12-6 up when he entered the field in the 27th minute, Harry Grant was the man who kicked the Kangaroos up a notch when the game sat in the balance, while fellow Queenslander Patrick Carrigan was big off the bench too, carrying 16 times for 145 metres.
As good as their opponents were at times, the Kiwis had nobody but themselves to blame for falling behind early, with Jahrome Hughes kicking out on the full – after Jamayne Isaako had already booted the start of play dead on the fly – to gift possession for Holmes’ opener on nine minutes, which was his 20th try in as many Tests.
Hughes laid on a reply to Briton Nikora 10 minutes later, before Collins scored twice in the space of nine minutes, after following up keenly in attacking territory, to give the Kangaroos a handy 18-6 lead.
It would have stayed that way at the break but for Ronaldo Mulitalo soaring through the air to claim a high ball with a minute to go in the half, with that try reducing the Kiwis’ deficit to six once again.
Eleven minutes after the restart of play Panthers ace Dylan Edwards went over for his first try as a Kangaroo and with Holmes maintaining his perfect day with the boot Australia had some comfort on the scoreboard again.
The Kiwis then gave away an obstruction penalty while working the ball out of their own end, handing Holmes a simple two from the ensuing penalty which stretched the lead to 26-12.
A stinging carry from James Fisher-Harris presented Fa’amanu Brown with the chance to burrow over with 11 to play and the two-Test Kiwi made no mistake, reducing the gap to eight temporarily.
But they collapsed badly from there, leaking late tries to Ben Hunt and Cameron Murray which blew the final scoreline out ahead of next week’s return match in Hamilton.
As impressive as the pass was from Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to set it up, the real beauty in this one sits with hulking front-rower Lindsay Collins, who got over for the first of his two tries on the night. Having just entered the field from the bench, Collins followed up intelligently to be in the picture and went over for a memorable four-pointer.
“I thought it was an excellent performance and the things we wanted to get through we did. Our second half was amazing, our completion rate was great, we controlled field position and we have got some quality players in our footy team that can take advantage of that. The beauty of our team is that they keep going… it’s fun to coach. The effort was really good not only tonight, but through the week. ” – Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
“There was a lot of good about it, but we will take a fair bit out of it for what we need to do this [coming] week and tidy up. The second half I felt we probably just weren’t where we needed to be. Australia spent a lot of time in our half and when you are having to defend like that it’s [using] energy. We put ourselves under a fair bit of pressure.” – Kiwis coach Michael Maguire.
The two nations meet again on November 4 at FMG Stadium Waikato, with the stakes even higher as they play to become inaugural winners of the Pacific Championships. The Kangaroos are likely to have a couple of changes with rested players returning, while it remains to be seen if Kiwis coach Michael Maguire opts to name an unchanged 17 for the third week in a row.