Jones unassailable as Kiwis are reborn

Australia 0 New Zealand 24
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The Independent Online

It was the proudest night in New Zealand's rugby league history as they achieved what their coach had flagged up in advance as the biggest upset the game has seen by beating their neighbours in the Tri-Nations final at Elland Road.

Brian McClennan's men produced a dominant performance, inspired by the indestructible Stacey Jones. When the Kangaroos' expected resurgence failed to materialise, there was never much doubt that New Zealand were going to shatter their long record of not winning a series or a tournament against them since 1953.

"Without sounding like a bighead, I was pretty confident in the week," said McClennan. "We believed in ourselves, but we played the underdog a bit."

New Zealand took what appeared to be two big risks, naming Shontayne Hape, who has played nowhere but centre for Bradford, at loose forward. The other imponderable was how Jones would perform 24 hours after flying back from Auckland following the birth of his son.

Both gambles proved triumphantly right, with Jones' kick setting up the first try after only four minutes. Matt King failed to catch under pressure from Jake Webster and Paul Whatuira swooped on the loose ball. Their defence stood up to its first tests, a gang tackle taking King into touch and a similar one accounting for Brent Tate on the other wing.

Only gradually did the Australian half-backs start to exert any influence and Paul Rauhihi was lucky to get away with a late tackle on Trent Barrett. Australia kept the pressure on, but David Kidwell's interception from Craig Gower was a pivotal moment.

He took play to the other end and the Kiwis chose to run a penalty awarded after he traded punches with Luke O'Donnell. Jones moved the ball to the left for Manu Vatuvei to score from Clinton Toopi's pass. After 25 minutes, it got even better. Tate seemed to have caught Jones' high kick but between there and the ground the massive Vatuvei relieved him of the ball for his second try.

Vatuvei knocked on with a hat-trick beckoning, as the Kiwis threatened to run riot but they did extend their lead when Jones finally kicked his first goal. Then an offence by Steven Price allowed Jones to take the Kiwi half-time lead to 16 points.

The Kiwis are notoriously slow starters in the second half and Barrett almost scrambled over for Australia four minutes after the break. Seven minutes later, all doubt was removed when the amazing Jones got a pass away to Brent Webb, who managed to twist his way through a two-man tackle and force the ball down. Jones landed the conversion and a penalty before Webster had a try disallowed. The astonishing fact of the matter was that New Zealand could have won by more.

Australia: Minichiello; King, Gasnier, Cooper, Tate; Barrett, Gower; Civoniceva, Buderus, Ryles, O'Donnell, Fitzgibbon, Kennedy. Substitutes used: Wing, Mason, O'Meley, Price.

New Zealand: Webb; Webster, Whatuira, Toopi, Vatuvei; Vagana, Jones; Rauhihi, Tony, Wiki, Kidwell, Anderson, Hape. Substitutes used: Faiumu, Asotasi, Solomona, Lauitiiti.

Referee: S Ganson (Great Britain).

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