New Zealand 2 Australia 34 match report: Two-try Billy Slater stars in Aussie final romp
Coach Sheens hails ninth World Cup win as best performance of his reign
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 01 December 2013
Australia reclaimed the World Cup with a commanding display, spearheaded by doubtful starter Billy Slater.
The full-back's two tries also obliterated memories of his mistake that gave New Zealand the trophy five years ago. It was an afternoon of vindication for him and a top-drawer Australian side.
"It's the best performance of my time as coach," said the Australia coach, Tim Sheens. "Apparently this is the oldest team to represent Australia, but the veterans stood up. Billy Slater produced a brilliant performance."
The New Zealand coach, Stephen Kearney, who led them to success in Brisbane five years ago, admitted that this time Australia had been just too good on the day.
"Australia's performance today was nothing short of outstanding," he said. "We couldn't get ourselves into the game."
The biggest pre-match question was answered when Slater was named at full-back, despite missing the semi-final with a knee injury.
Likewise New Zealand's two contrasting, but equally dangerous wingers, Manu Vatuvei and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Their presence, after some midweek doubts, gave the Kiwis a real cutting edge – but only for the first few minutes.
The other question, that of which team the neutrals would support, was answered emphatically and predictably when the two squads came out for their warm-up. New Zealand, despite beating England last week, to general acclaim, and the Kangaroos to a chorus of boos.
A full house at Old Trafford, even without a home team to get behind, was a tribute to the way this tournament has seized the imagination of the rugby league public.
Unfortunately for Kiwis and honorary Kiwis everywhere, Australia were in no mood to give them anything. It was 324 minutes since they had conceded a try and that sequence never looked like being broken.
After four minutes, a generous ruling from English referee Richard Silverwood that Kieran Foran had obstructed Slater allowed Johnathan Thurston to open the score with a penalty.
There was more bad news for the Kiwis when Tuivasa-Sheck limped off with a recurrence of his leg injury that required a wholesale positional reshuffle. "His first carry, he heard a crack," said Kearney. Some gambles pay off and some don't. An uncharacteristic high shot from Cameron Smith allowed Shaun Johnson to equalise, but the rest of the half belonged to Australia.
There looked little wrong with Slater when he soared high above Foran to take Thurston's kick for the first Aussie try. There would soon have been another, but for Issac Luke's last-ditch tackle to prevent Cooper Cronk touching down.
The Melbourne scrum-half, who was having a particularly strong game, was not to be denied for long. Thurston burst through Sonny Bill Williams' tackle, Darius Boyd got boot to ball and Cronk was there to touch down. A conversion and a penalty from Thurston added up to a dominant half-time position for the men in green and gold.
After all the hype about him potentially becoming the first player to win both union and league World Cups, Williams had endured a shocker of a first half, which he could not make up for by trying a little too hard in the second. "I don't think you could fault him for effort," said Kearney. "He was trying to the end to make an impact on the game."
The first minute of that half saw the Kiwis opened up again by a simple blind-side move, man of the match Thurston making the break, and even though Boyd's pass was behind Slater, he pulled it in to score.
Josh Papali's off-load and a couple of kicks-ahead set up the next, although it was a try that came with a price tag attached when Brett Morris careered into the advertising hoardings in the act of scoring. The Australians' pre-match concern about their closeness to the pitch proved correct.
Sonny Bill's afternoon was summed up when his pass was intercepted by Jarryd Hayne for the recovered Morris to race away for his second try.
Of the world-record international crowd of 74,468, most had come hoping to see a compelling contest like last week's. Instead, they saw one of the very best Australian performances of recent years – one for which the holders had no answers.
New Zealand Locke, Tuivasa-Sheck, Whare, Goodwin, Vatuvei, Foran, Johnson, Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Bromwich, Mannering, Williams, Taylor. Replacements Matulino, Nu'uausala, Kasiano, Glenn.
Australia Slater, B Morris, Inglis, Hayne, Boyd, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith, Tamou, Bird, Thaiday, Gallen. Replacements Cherry-Evans Fifita, Papali, Parker.
Referee R Silverwood (Eng).
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