Australia and New Zealand showed that the standard required to win the Four Nations will be high as they produced a compelling contest to open the tournament.
In front of a full house at Warrington and the watching English coaching staff, the Kangaroos demonstrated much of the relentless defence and clinical finishing that makes them tournament favourites.
But the way the Kiwis, victorious over Australia in their last two major finals, fought back to within four points in the second half marked them out as real dangers as well. Steve McNamara and his assistants went away with plenty to think about.
New Zealand were beaten 40-6 the last time these two sides met two weeks ago. They got off to a dreadful start that day, so it was doubly important that they began well at the Halliwell Jones.
Instead, they gave Australia an extra set of tackles when Simon Mannering hung on to Cameron Smith in the tackle. Almost inevitably, they were punished when Matt Scott rumbled over from close range. The Kiwis had a good 25 minutes after that dismal start, spending much of it attacking the Aussie line without ever quite finding the precision to get over.
Again almost inevitably, Australia showed them how it was done, although it took the arrival from the bench of Tony Williams to do it. Billy Slater, Chris Lawrence and Darius Boyd handled beautifully down the left, Johnathon Thurston kicked and then retrieved the loose ball and Williams, formerly a winger but now a menacing presence in the second row, powered his way over the try-line.
As half-time approached, the hulking Williams broke through again, this time passing to Thurston when he could almost certainly have scored himself. Thurston rolled over to touch down but could not add a third conversion.
Jason Nightingale's break and inside pass could have produced a Kiwi riposte, but the ball would not quite stick in the hands of the supporting Kevin Locke. They did make their breakthrough after 47 minutes, when Kieran Foran's kick caused confusion and Nightingale swooped on the loose ball. Benji Marshall's conversion reduced the gap to 10 points, further eaten into when Kalifa Faifai Loa charged over after fine attacking work by Nightingale and Gerard Beale.
Jolted to attention, Australia went up a gear, with Thurston and Lawrence combining to send Boyd in. The Kiwis continued to have their chances, but were often guilty of naivety near the try-line, as when Beale was forced into touch. They almost manufactured an acrobatic try for Locke, but Nightingale's feet were on the dead-ball line.
With four minutes to play, Australia made sure of victory by a slightly flattering scoreline when Akuila Uate latched on to Billy Slater's kick.
Australia: Slater; Uate, Tonga, Lawrence, Boyd; Lockyer, Thurston; Scott, C.Smith, Gallen, Lewis, Thaiday, Watmough. Substitutes used: Shillington, Cronk, Williams, Galloway.
New Zealand: Locke; Loa, Brown, Beale, Nightingale; Marshall, Foran; Matulino, Luke, McKendry, Manu, Mannering, J.Smith. Substitutes used: Leuluai, Glenn, Wharea-Hargreaves, Moimoi.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).Reuse content