Damien Cook celebrated his homecoming by spearheading a new-look Kangaroos side to a 26-4 win over New Zealand in front of 18,104 fans at WIN Stadium on Friday night.
Cook, who grew up at Helensburgh and was a member of Stanwell Park Surf Lifesaving Club, broke the Kiwis’ hearts with a 70-metre intercept try midway through the second half and used his speed from dummy half to put James Tedesco over to seal the win.
It was a clinical performance by the Kangaroos to avenge last year’s Test loss to New Zealand in Auckland and put them in the box seat to secure the inaugural Oceania Cup Trophy if they can beat Tonga next Saturday at Eden Park.
In some ways the Kiwis could feel they were unlucky as two of Australia’s first three tries were scored from intercepts but they didn’t create enough opportunities to seriously trouble Australia.
With the Kiwis missing props Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and James Fisher-Harris, it was no surprise that Australia fancied their chances in the middle and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga chose two front-rowers on the bench.
Canberra prop Josh Papalii, the only survivor from Meninga’s first Test team in 2016, was a powerhouse, despite carrying a rib cartilage injury into the game.
Papalii ran 80 metres from seven carries with the ball in his first 23-minute stint before being replaced by Payne Haas.
One of five debutants in the Australian team, Haas is the youngest forward to wear the green-and-gold jersey since Brad Fittler in 1990 and he made a stunning first-up impression as he carried the ball for 102 metres from just seven runs before half-time.
By the end of his 37-minute stint, 19-year-old Haas had ran the ball for 174 metres from 13 carries – the most by any forward on either side.
David Klemmer ran the ball for 154 metres, while Papalii finished the game with 145 metres and interchange prop Paul Vaughan, another debutant, ran for 120 metres.
The Kangaroos posted first points when centre Latrell Mitchell landed an eighth minute penalty goal and they looked set to go further ahead after Papalii put Jake Trbojevic over in the 15th minute but the Manly lock knocked on.
Kangaroos second-rower Tyson Frizell then put the home side further ahead in the 27th minute when he stepped Marshall after receiving the ball on the New Zealand tryline and dived over to score.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad got the Kiwis on the scoreboard when he powered over out wide after Roger Tuivasa-Sheck chimed into the backline from a 35th minute scrum win but it was the only points New Zealand managed all night.
Their best scoring chance in the second half came in the 54th minute as the Kiwis threw the ball around near the Australian line but Cook struck a huge blow when he intercepted an Adam Blair pass and ran 70 metres to score.
Cook was at his electrifying best again five minutes later when he burst out of dummy half and exposed some tired marker defence before finding James Tedesco to score under the posts.
Trbojevic had another try disallowed late in the match and a 76th minute Daly Cherry-Evans penalty goal completed the scoring.
A hat-trick from the player of the tournament Mitchell Moses helped Australia overcome New Zealand 24-10 to claim the inaugural men’s World Cup 9s title.
After a weight of possession, New Zealand crossed first when Reimis Smith athletically touched down in the corner courtesy of a brilliant bat-on by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Australia briefly hit the front through a converted Moses bonus zone try but Kiwis winger Jamayne Isaako responded straight away with his seventh try of the competition and the ensuing sideline goal.
However, the brilliance of Eels halfback Moses put the Kangaroos ahead 13-10 at half-time as he burnt the defence to notch another four-pointer on his home turf.
Kyle Feldt powered over for a try in the second stanza, much to the chagrin of many fans who claimed the Cowboys winger committed a double-movement and planted the ball short.
But Moses, who finished with 20 points, ensured that debate was moot when he backed up a bulldozing David Fifita bust to reach the bonus zone and secure the coveted trophy.
The Kiwis will look for redemption next Friday at the Trans-Tasman double header.
Tickets are on sale at 12pm today for the Australia vs New Zealand Double-Header Test matches set to take place on October 25th at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
Thousands of rugby league fans are expected to join the strong local support for the only Test Matches scheduled on Australian soil in 2019.
“The Australia-New Zealand rivalry is a special one and it will be the only occasion this year fans can witness both the male and female teams competing in official Test Matches,” NRL Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Abdo said.
“It is the best players in both the NRL and NRLW competing for the unofficial title of the world’s best.
“We hosted a great crowd for the last international played in Wollongong in 2014, and we are excited to be returning to this important rugby league region again this year.”
It will be the first time the Australian Kangaroos have faced the New Zealand Kiwis at WIN Stadium, with the women’s sides having clashed at the venue back in 2014.
New Zealand Rugby League Chief Executive Officer Greg Peters said: “Trans Tasman rivalry showcases everything that is great about our game. To be able to see four of the World’s top Rugby League teams with points to prove in action on one day will make for a not to be missed fan experience. The Men’s match will also form part of the inaugural Oceania Cup and may well decide the winner of that trophy.”
The Harvey Norman Jillaroos held on for a nail-biting win over the Kiwi Ferns at Mt Smart on October 13 last year, while the Australian Kangaroos will be looking to avenge their 26-24 loss against the New Zealand Kiwis from the same day.
Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and nrl.com/tickets. Event-goers can also catch free train and shuttle services to and from WIN Stadium using just their event ticket, making public transport an attractive travel option for the event.
The Australia v New Zealand Double Header is supported by the New South Wales Government via Destination New South Wales.
The women’s and men’s matches will be broadcast live nationally across the Nine Network, Fox Sports and NRL Live Pass, and well as Sky NZ in New Zealand.